Termites vs. carpenter ants: Know your wood destroyers

|  May 6, 2016
Illustration: ©Leo Michael

Illustration: ©Leo Michael

Chances are you’ve experienced a customer call (or dozens) for “a termite infestation,” only to find no evidence of such pests on-site, but a lot of telltale signs of carpenter ants. It’s a fairly common mistake for the public to make: When many homeowners see destroyed wood, they think termites. Pest management professionals (PMPs), however, know there are a host of other wood-destroying insects and organisms (WDI/WDO) that could be the culprits.

On a recent ride along with Speed Exterminating in Cleveland, I saw wood damage caused by carpenter ants — “evidence” some homeowners would mistakenly say serves as proof of termites. Maybe not, or maybe termites and other pests are destroying the wood.

To save time on initial wood-damage calls, PMPs could begin by asking two basic questions:

  1. Have you seen the pests?
    If so, they may more likely be carpenter ants, which can forage for food great distances from their nests.
  2. Have you seen carpenter ants’ telltale window holes?
    The insides of their galleries are usually smooth with piles of discarded wood shavings nearby. Comparatively, termites’ gallery holes often contain large amounts of soil and other debris outside these windows.

Obviously, there are many other distinguishing differences between subterranean termites and carpenter ants (and other WDI/WDO), but some simple questions could save valuable time up front.

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