How to Identify Swarming Termites

By Chris Williams on April 28, 2011.

Q. We have either swarming termites or swarming ants, I think. Can you explain to me the difference between the two? I’m kind of afraid to find out that they’re termites.

winged-termiteA. I think we can help. It’s easy to be confused. Termite swarmers (also called alates or reproductives) and swarmers of some of the larger ant species are similar in size and color, and of course both have wings. The main difference is in certain characteristics of their body shape. You may be able to see these differences with the naked eye but a magnifying lens will definitely help.

  • Size: Termite swarmers are about 3/8 inch long, including wings. Ant swarmers vary in size but those of the largest ant (carpenter ant) are about 1/2 to 5/8 inch long, including wings.
  • winged-antColor: Termite swarmers are mostly black; some species are dark brown. Ant swarmers are usually dark too, but range from yellow to brown to black.
  • Waist: The body of a termite swarmer remains about the same thickness or width from just behind its head to the tip of its abdomen. In contrast, an ant swarmer has a “waist,” a narrowed area that connects the thorax and the abdomen. Wasps have the same kind of waist.
  • Antennae: Termite swarmers have relatively long, straight antennae. Ant swarmers have antennae that have a bend or elbow in the middle.
  • Wings: Termite swarmers have four wings (two pair) that are all the same size. Ant swarmers have four wings (two pair) but the front pair of wings is larger than the back pair. Both termite and ant swarmers tend to lose their wings after swarming so you may find swarmers without wings or wings without swarmers!


Or…don’t panic, call us. At Colonial, our trained technicians have had lots of experience identifying termites and ants. If you can, save some of the swarmers and their wings in a bottle or zip-loc bag and give us a call. We’re here to help.



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