As my screaming allergies can tell me, prostate Spring certainly has Sprung, despite this recent bout of chilly weather we’ve been experiencing over the last week or so. We have had several reports of termite flights (or swarms) in the last few days as well as a significant increase in Ant activity in and around homes. The commonality of these pests in our local ecology makes everyone likely to come in contact with one type or the other (maybe both) within the next month or so. Knowing the difference is extremely important from a treatment perspective and may save you thousands in treatment costs and damage repair. So, get out your pens and notebooks, its time for a little bit of Bug School!
First things first: Ants versus Termites:
Pictured left is a worker Ant. Note the pinched waist, darkened color and elbowed antennae. More
subtle differences include more devolved compound eyes and longer stronger legs, adaptations for life on the surface.
Pictured here is a worker termite. Note the lighter body coloration, almost total lack of eyes and shorter, beaded antennae, all adaptations for life underground or within infested wood.
These worker insects (both ants and termites) comprise about 95% of total membership of the colony and perform all the tasks the colony requires: rearing young, gathering food, disposal of wastes and dead insects, etc. Ant workers are familiar to most of us as there aren’t many spring and summer days where we might be outside without seeing them. Termite workers, on the other hand, live exclusively underground or inside infested wood. Termite workers cannot be exposed to fresh air as the reduced humidity on the surface alone will kill them. Most people might literally live their whole lives without ever seeing a worker termite in the flesh.
Both Ants and Termites are truly social (Eusocial is the exact entomological term) insects and live in colonies numbering easily in the thousands, up to a million or more depending on the exact species. In our particular area (Northern New Jersey, Hudson County in particular) we host many different species of ants and not all are pest species. The northeastern United States, conversely, is home to only one native species of termite, Reticulitermes flavipies, or the Eastern Subterranean Termite (EST).
Spring is a busy time for both types of insects as now is the time for a reproductive flight. Reproductive flights occur when strong, healthy colonies release sexually mature insects (called swarmers or alates) to mate and begin a new colony somewhere else. The differences are somewhat more subtle than between workers so I’ve included a picture below.
You’ll see that the Termite reproductives have a darkened exoskeleton like ants, but aside from that change, they retain the same basic body structure as the termite worker. Below is a picture of a termite swarm in progress, in full living color.
I hope we’ve helped alleviate any confusion you may (or may not have) had. Feel free to do a bit more research on your own if you’d like, as the information presented here is brief at best and presented for reading ease, not depth of scope.
As always, feel free to contact our office with any questions you might have and if you have any mystery insects please keep a specimen for our review and exact identification.
Have a great (and pest free) Spring!