When you see chew marks on your wood and insects scurrying away, your first thought may be, "termites!" But carpenter ants can cause similar damage to wood. Because the two pests need to be dealt with in different ways, it is important to confirm which one is chewing on your home before you start working to eradicate them.
How can you tell the difference between carpenter ant and termite infestation?
The easiest way to tell the difference is to try to spot the bugs themselves. If they have these characteristics, they are carpenter ants:
- Black or reddish-black body that is all the same color
- Three body segments, the smallest of which is located in the front of the body (the head)
- Eight obvious but small legs that are typically all the same size
- Two wings of uneven length (during their winged stage of life)
If the insects have these characteristics, they are termites:
- Two body segments: the head and the body
- The body is about the same width all of the way down
- Two wings that are the same length (during their winged stage of life)
- Body is a deep red color in adulthood and a pale, cream color earlier in life
Of course, sometimes it can be tough to spot the insects themselves. You can also examine the wood itself to see what insect is causing the damage. Carpenter ants don't actually digest the wood like termites do. They just burrow into it to make their nests. So, if you see a lot of wood shavings on the floor near the wood that looks like it has been chewed, the damage is likely caused by carpenter ants rather than termites.
If you look closely at the wood, you may also see small tunnels—these are signs of ants. Termites will gnaw across the wood, giving the wood a rough texture, rather than building tunnels. Also, look for muddy tracks across the wood. These are indications of termites; carpenter ants usually leave the areas they damage pretty clean.
What do you do if you think you have carpenter ants?
If you decide you have a carpenter-ant infestation, you can likely deal with the problem yourself rather than hiring an exterminator. Carpenter ants don't cause extensive damage very quickly, so you can afford to take a little more time in eradicating them. Set some carpenter ant bait traps around your home. As the ants discover them and eat from them, they will carry the bait back to their nest and share it with the other ants, all of whom will die.
If the ants are in your walls, you can drill two holes into the wall on either side of the area that's infested. Then, spray an insecticide dust into the two holes.
What do you do if you think you have termites?
Termites can cause extensive damage to your home within a few short weeks. They're much harder to eradicate than carpenter ants, and doing so usually requires strong insecticides. So, it's usually best to let an exterminator deal with a termite infestation. While you're awaiting the exterminator's arrival, you can do a few things to start getting the termites under control.
Make sure the area around your home stays dry. Build the soil up near your home so water drains away from your house, keeping your foundation and the soil around it dry so it's less appealing to termites.
Trim any bushes around the base of your home. They make the area shady and more appealing to termites.
Set up some water-absorbing desiccant pans to absorb moisture in your basement and in any other rooms in your home where the air seems moist.
If insects are eating your home, the first thing you need to do is determine whether carpenter ants or termites are the problem. You'll save yourself some headaches because then you can be sure you're taking the right approach the first time.