What Do Termites Look Like?


Carpenter ants cost U.S. property owners millions of dollars annually. That is pretty bad. But when you consider that termites are responsible for billions of dollars in damages to U.S. property every year, it is clear to see why it is important to know the difference between these two insects. Recognizing these differences is one of the best ways to learn what termites look like. Inside a termite colony there are several castes. Each caste has a role to play, and each caste has a slightly different appearance. The following are the 5 castes of termites that make up a colony, and a few of the ways they are different from ants.

What Do Termites Look Like?

Within a termite colony, there are several different types of termites that all have different jobs. Because of this, they look different. The types of termites in a colony include:

What Does a Swarmer Termite Look Like?

The termite caste you're most likely to see is the termite swarmer. These are the only termites that live outside of the soil or the wood the colony is feeding on. They are also the caste of termite that will most likely be mistaken for ant swarmers. Here are the ways they are different:

  • Termite swarmers are black or dark brown. Carpenter ant swarmers are black or reddish black. Other ant swarmers can come in many different colors.
  • Termite swarmers have a ½ inch body and wings that are ¾ of an inch in length and extend past the abdomen by ½ an inch. Ant wings do not tend to extend very far beyond the abdomen. For this reason, the wings of a termite are likely to be the  most noticeable characteristic of these insects.
  • Termite wings are white and transparent. Ant wings tend to be yellowish and transparent.
  • Termite wings stack on top of each other. This causes them to be rounded at the tips. While ants and termites both have 4 wings, ant wings are clearly divided into two wings on each side, which produces a cleft at the tips.
  • Body size is the easiest way to tell the difference between termite swarmers and carpenter ants. While both may be black in color, carpenter ants are much larger. The body of a termite swarmer isn't going to be much more than ¼ of an inch in length.
  • The body of a carpenter ant can be a full inch. And, not only are carpenter ants larger than termites, they are larger than any other ant you'll find in your home.
  • Termites have three body parts like other insects, but they lack the distinct pinch between the thorax and abdomen, like ants have. This can make it appear as though they only have a head and body.
  • Termites have antennae that are straight or slightly curved. When examined with a magnifying glass, these antennae appear as several tiny balls stacked on top of each other. Ant wings are more stick-like and have an elbow. When looked at with magnification, their antennae may also have tiny stacked balls after the elbow and before the tips.

What Does a Worker Termite Look Like?

You're more likely to mistake termite workers for maggots than you are ants. This is because termites have a shiny pale color that makes them look like no ant you've ever seen. You'll also notice that termite workers do not have a pinched waist, like an ant. Workers are smaller than swarmer termites, and are pale colored, instead of black. Workers have legs, body segments, and antennae like swarmers, but not the wings.

What Does a Soldier Termite Look Like?

This is another caste of termite you're not going to mistake for an ant. The large, dark yellow head and black pincers on a soldier termite make it look more like an earwig than an ant. Soldier termites look like termite workers in every way, except for their oversized head and pincers.

What Does the King Termite Look Like?

Swarmer termites are male and female reproductives. Once they have bred, the male swarmers lose their wings and take their place at the side of their queen. They look like swarmers in every way, except for their lack of wings.

What Does the Queen Termite Look Like?

Female reproductive termite swarmers lose their wings after they have bred, and establish themselves at the heart of a colony, just like king termites do, but they look very different. This is because the abdomen on a queen termite never stops growing. The more offspring she produces, the more her abdomen will bloat and become tan with equidistant dark brown marks.

How Long Do Termite Live?

Queen Subterranean termites can live up to 45 years, while worker termites may live only a couple of years, because of predators and fungi that attack them. 

Because queen termites have such longevity, they can pose a real problem if they build their colonies on your property. No one wants a house guest living on their property for that long! Especially not a house guest that will send her workers into the wood of your home’s structure to hollow it from the inside out! Luckily there are ways to get rid of these wood destroyers when they invade your home. Termite control systems are effective at killing termite colonies. Sometimes these systems need trenching or digging around your home to deposit termite monitoring stations into the ground. These stations attract termites and alert termite control specialists to their presence so that baits can be placed on your property to eliminate the pests. Other non-invasive termite control systems can also be used and are often just as effective.

When it comes to treating for termites, it’s important to get the queen termite. She’s the one responsible for creating her expansive colonies and if she is not eliminated, your problem could continue. Termite baits are usually quite successful in getting the queen, because when the worker termites collect the termite bait, they take it back to the colony. At the colony, it the bait is shared with all the other termites, including the queen. How long do termites live when a termite control system is in place? Only as long as it takes the termite to get back to the colony with the bait! Termite life spans are considerably shorter with professional control, which is good for the safety and structure of your home!

It is vital to know what termites look like. These wood-destroying insects can cost you a lot of money and eat their way into your equity. For assistance in preventing termite damage, reach out to Rottler Pest & Lawn Solutions. We protect homes and businesses in our extensive Missouri service area with the most advanced termite protection available. Get your home protected today.