6 Bugs That Are Commonly Mistaken as Termites 

It is easy to confuse a number of insects with termites at quick glance. But closer look and research will show that these insects are so different in a number of ways, including appearance, habits, habitats, and more.

If you misidentify a termite or its signs of damage, you could be spending money on the wrong pest control. Or you could be missing another major damage happening in your home.

This article discusses what termites look like and the insects that may appear similar to them. This will help you identify the correct pest that may be causing havoc in your property.

Bugs That Look Like Termites

Closeup image of carpenter ant on a dirt

1. Carpenter Ants

Winged ants, particularly Carpenter Ants, are easy to be confused with termites because both are the same in size and shape. Termites and Carpenter are either black or dark brown in colour. Their sizes are between 0.25 inches and 0.5 inches. 

Both also have two pairs of wings. However, Carpenter Ants have front wings that are longer than the back wings. Like termites, not all Carpenter Ants have wings. 

In terms of body features, Carpenter Ants have a narrow thorax and curved antennae and the wood tunnels they build are smooth. On the other hand, termites have a broad thorax and straight antennae and they their wood tunnels are rough in texture. 

2. Powderpost beetles

Like termites, Powderpost beetles feed on wood and can cause significant damage to property. As their name suggests, these bugs leave wood in the form of powder or particles after eating them.

Powderpost beetles are nocturnal and almost similar in size to termites.

3. Flying Ants

Adult flying ants grow wings that allow them to leave the nest when it’s time for mating, which takes place during the warmer months. These insects can invade your home and contaminate your food supply. Meanwhile, termites will leave your food alone.

The wings of flying ants have irregular shapes unlike those of termites. They have two curved antennae and thin bodies. Aside from the same appearance, both termites and flying ants are swarmers.

4. Carpenter Bees

The similarity between Carpenter Bees and termites is the way they infest and build tunnels for their colonies in wood structures. In terms of habits, Carpenter Bees are solitary while termites live in groups.

It not easy to differentiate between Carpenter Bees and termites, but it becomes easier at close range. A Carpenter Bee possesses a glossy body and yellow patch with shades of blue, brown and green.

5. Acrobat Ants

Acrobat Ants are mistaken for termites because they can usually be found inside walls and wood. They are the smallest type of ants, generally two to three millimetres long. Its abdomen is shaped like a heart and its thorax is slim. Their body has flat segments with six legs attached.

6. Mayflies

Mayflies on the move look similar to termites. Like termites, Mayflies are highly active when the weather is warm and after a heavy downpour. They also live with groups and are drawn by bright lights, so they would usually congregate in decks, window screens and doors.

Mayflies stand out more than flying termites as they come in different, lighter colours. Their rear wings are relatively smaller than their front wings.

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How to Identify Termites?

A termite colony has a social structure and distinct physical attributes. It comprises a queen and king, workers, soldiers and flying termites, or alates.

Their size ranges from about a quarter of an inch to three quarters of an inch. In general, termites are either white or light brown in colour. The soldiers are darker compared to the workers. They also possess four identical clear wings and two straight antennae.

Termites prefer to stay hidden, thus it is more likely for you to see signs of their presence rather than the real ones. There are also several species of termites, and it’s important to identify which species is giving you the problem in order to apply the right treatment.

Signs that you are dealing with termites

You are less likely to see a live termite because they try their hardest to hide their activities from humans. Luckily, they leave behind signs of their presence. Here are some of them:

1. Presence of Swarmers

These are flying termites that leave the nest in large groups in search of mates and a new nest location. Some species swarm at night, while others swarm during the day. However, all drywood termites tend to swarm after a heavy downpour at particular times of the year.

2. Shed wings

Flying termites discard their wings after taking flight. When there is a termite infestation, piles of discarded wings might be found around your home’s foundations, inside or outside your home.

3. Hollow-sounding or blistering wood

Termites feed on wood from the inside out, leaving the wood hollowed out. When you tap on an area of the wood with termite damage, you will hear a hollow sound. This is because the inside of the wood is gone. Another sign is unexplained cracks on inner walls.

4. Fras or termite droppings

Frass, the droppings from drywood termites, can be mistaken for sawdust by inexperienced eyes. You would know you’re dealing with drywood termites because they used their faeces to build their tunnels.

5. Mud tubes

Termites use mud tubes to travel from their nest to their food source. These tubes are found attached to structures, usually close to the foundations. Subterranean termites build mud tunnels for protection as well as to provide moisture for them.

6. Hard to open windows or stuck doors

These signs are the result of termites producing moisture when eating and building tunnels through doors and window frames.

7. Clicking sound from walls

There are the sounds that termites make that gives you an idea of their presence. The sound you hear from your walls may be the soldiers banging their heads against the wood or shaking their bodies when they sense a threat. The workers, meanwhile, are noisy when they feed wood. They are so loud that when you put your ears close to the walls you can hear them munching away.

Common places where termite damages occur

Termites are silent destroyers because they are good at hiding their activities. Detection could take a long time and by then, they have caused significant damage that amounts to hundreds of dollars of repairs.

However, there are places that are often discovered with termites and termite infestation:

  • The exterior of concrete walls, painted wood trims, siding and wood piles
  • Places where things are stored such as basements, attics, garages and crawl spaces
  • Around damaged pipes and damp areas in the kitchens and bathrooms
  • The tops of the walls, corners of rooms, floors, closets, and wooden window and door frames
  • Support beams in a home’s interior

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Termites and their habitats

The common species of termites are Drywood Termites, Dampwood Termites and Subterranean Termites. Each of them thrives in different environments or habitats.

Drywood Termites can survive in dry wood habitats. They can also build nests in trees that are close to cracks or gaps in home exteriors.

Subterranean Termites need damp soil in order for their colony to thrive. A subspecies, the Formosan termites, use mud to build tunnels that they use to travel to their food source. These termites are usually found outside where there is plenty of soil, moisture and wood.

Dampwood Termites build their nests on moisture-damaged wood and damp soil. They are attracted to homes with leaking gutters and faucets as well as humid kitchens and basements.

Correct pest identification ensures that the appropriate and most effective control methods are applied. Ordinary people may not have the knowledge to correctly identify pests. This is where experienced residential and commercial pest control experts can help in the proper identification, treatment and control of problematic bugs.

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