What are the differences between ants and termites?

Ants and termites are sometimes mistaken for each other, however they are very different insect groups. Several key features help to identify them correctly.

Ant

Andrew Howells © Australian Museum

Antennae

  • Ants: Elbowed.
  • Termites: Simple string of bead-like segments.

Eyes

  • Ants: Compound eyes present.
  • Termites: No eyes.

Waist (called a pedicel, found between thorax and abdomen)

  • Ants: Present.
  • Termites: Absent.

Abdomen

  • Ants: Pointed at end.
  • Termites: Blunt at end.

Castes

Both ants and termites can be divided up into several ‘castes’, which depend upon their roles in the colony.

Workers

  • Ants: Sexually undeveloped females.
  • Termites: Sexually undeveloped males and females.

Soldiers

  • Ants: Are workers and may have dual role.
  • Termites: Sexually undeveloped males and females. There are two possible body forms: mandibulate (jawed) and nasute (long-nosed), depending on species.

Reproductives (winged)

  • Both ants and termites can have a winged stage in their reproductive cycle.
  • Ants: Fore/hind wings unequal, strongly veined
  • Termites: Fore/hind wings equal, no obvious veins

Life cycle

  • Ants: Complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, adult
  • Termites: Incomplete metamorphosis: egg, nymph, adult (no pupal stage)

Diet

  • Ants: ants are scavengers, with different species foraging for different foods. Some ants live within damp/decaying wood, but do not actually eat the wood.
  • Termites: termites are plant tissue specialists, feeding on wood and grasses, and some species can cause extensive damage to buildings and trees through their feeding and nesting habits.

Scientific classification

  • Ants: Order Hymenoptera, Family Formicidae
  • Termites: Order Isoptera, several families


Dr David Britton , Acting Head, Natural Sciences & Biodiversity Conservation
Last Updated:

Tags isoptera, hymenoptera, formicidae, comparison, identification, identifying, insects,