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How To Tell the Difference Between Flying Ants and Flying Termites

Matthew S. Hess

Two pests which are often confused are ant swarmers and termite swarmers. Whether you own a home or other structure, or simply just rent, a swarm of any insect, especially inside, are unwelcome intruders. Knowing how to tell the difference between flying ants and flying termites is something everyone should learn.

Flying ants and flying termites are easily confused by the average person. Their similarities, however, are actually few. Let’s take a look at both and see which one you have.

Of course, both ants and termites have swarmers which are sent out to begin new colonies. An invasion of swarmers likely means there is an underlying problem. If it happens to be termite swarmers, there is cause for real concern.

As spring approaches and the weather begins to warm, termite colonies are gearing up to release their reproductive alates, also known as swarmers. Their only goal in life is to catch a ride on a light wind and fly to a new destination where they will reproduce and begin a brand new colony. In the pest control world, we call this “Termite swarm season” and we all look very forward to every call!

Termite colonies usually only swarm after about their fourth year. So, if you end up with termite swarmers, chances are there is an established colony too close for comfort.

Termite swarmers inside the home may be an unwelcome guest but also serve as an alarm to an underlying infestation

Image 1

Termite swarmers and shed wings in a dayroom

Will I Know How To Tell the Difference Between Flying Ants and Flying Termites By the Season?

Beginning as early as February, when temperatures rise into the 70’s, the fun begins. By the first of April, we are usually in the full swing of termite swarm season. Termites are swarming faster than we can take the calls! It’s the “Christmas” of the pest control world! You the customer, on the other hand, won’t find the same joy in a swarm of termites!

Finding a swarm of flying insects in or near your home can be a sign that an infestation is close. But is it ants or termites? That’s what every victim of swarm season wants to know, and rightly so.

Ants and termites both swarm around mid-morning to mid-day on a warm day. For termites, this will usually follow a rainy or stormy day when humidity levels are higher. Termites are prone to quick desiccation since they lack the ability to regulate body moisture content. In order to be successful, optimal conditions are preferred.

While termites are gearing up to release their alate reproductive, so are ants. About the same time, both insects begin their cycle. Ants, however, can continue to swarm until sometime around fall, whereas termites have usually ceased by June. If you have a swarm after June, it is likely that you have ants. If you have a swarm before mid April, it’s likely you have termites. However, it’s best to call in an expert to be completely sure.

How To Tell the Difference Between Flying Ants and Flying Termites

The main difference in termite swarmers and ant swarmers is that termites eat wood and most ants do not. Though that won’t help you identify which is which, it puts the importance of determining that answer into perspective.

Often when ants swarm, there will be wingless worker ants mixed among the swarmers. They will gather around windows and doors or where sunlight is present as they seek out new nesting grounds. When they are seen flying, their pattern is smoother, more natural and more fluid than termite swarmers.

Ant swarmers may be mixed with worker ants wherever they swarm. Termites will only be swarmers.

Image 2

Ant swarmers and workers will typically be found together during an ant swarm.

Termite swarmers will not be mixed with termite workers. However, dealate reproductives will be mixed in. These are simply alate swarmers which have already shed their wings. It’s a one-time fight for a swarmer and then it’s back to an underground life, so they don’t need their wings for long.

When observing termite swarmers, their flight seems less natural, more forced and somewhat unintentional. When found inside, they may be scattered throughout a structure. You will also begin to notice their shed wings soon after the initial swarm occurs.

Termite swarmers have straight antenna, two sets of wings of equal length, a thick waist with no pinch and they shed their wings shortly after swarming

Image 3

Ant swarmers and workers will typically be found together during an ant swarm.

Key Differences of How To Tell the Difference Between Flying Ants and Flying Termites

The differences between ant swarmers and termite swarmers are relatively simple. All pest professionals use these to easily and quickly determine which swarmer you have. There are four main categories:

Understanding the difference between ant and termite swarmers can help properly identify the pests when they are present

Image 4

In this drawing, you can clearly find the four main differences between ant swarmers and termite swarmers.


Termites have two sets of wings of equal length. These will be silvery-white with almost invisible veins.

Termites shed their wings before reproduction and leave them behind.

Image 5

Termite swarmers shed their wings soon after swarming, before they re-enter the ground to begin a new colony. Because this picture is very close-up, the colors and veins in the wings become more visible. This will not be the case when viewed with the naked eye. Their wings will appear silvery-white with little to no noticeable veins.

Additionally, there is no pinched waist and the body is more flattened on the termite swarmer.

Ants have two sets of wings of different sizes; the forewings being longer and wider than the hindwings. Their wings can range from seemingly transparent white to a transparent black or brown and will generally have a few visible dark veins.

Ants maintain their wings through the reproductive cycle and only shed them after a colony is initiated.

Ant swarmers have wings which appear more translucent and colored than termites

Image 6

Ant swarmers keep their wings until they mate. Their wings can vary in color and color density with prominent veins but will usually appear more transparent than the wings of a termite swarmer.

Additionally, there is a definitively pinched waist and rounded body segments with what some call a hump-back thorax on the ant swarmer.


Termites have a wide, straight and uniform body with no pinched waist after the mesothorax and metathorax (where the wings attach). This gives the termite only two distinctively visible body segments: the head and the abdomen. Their bodies will be more flattened and uniform (as pictured in Image 5 above).

Ants have a definitively pinched waist just past the wings, giving the ant three distinctively visible body segments: the head, thorax and abdomen. Ant swarmer bodies can appear hump-backed or with swollen abdomens and in general, will be less uniform than a termite and instead of flat, the body parts will be much more rounded (as pictured in Image 6 above).


Termites have straight antenna beginning at the scape to the tip of the flagellum. They may appear slightly curved or slightly bent but never elbowed.

Ants have a definite elbow in their antenna. The length of the scape will be nearly equal to the pedicel and flagellum combined.

(See Image 4 above)


Termite swarmers will be consistently the same. If you compare them as they move around, they will all look basically the same.

Ants can have multiple sizes of swarmers within the same swarm. This isn’t always the case but often is. If there are multiple varying sizes of swarmers, it’s likely ants.

Termite swarmers do not vary in size within a swarm

Ant swarms can contain various sizes of swarmers within a single swarm

Ant swarmers may vary in size within a single swarm.

Do You Need Treatment?

Of course, any infestation of ants or termites inside a structure should be taken seriously. Though only carpenter ants pose any structural threat in the ant kingdom, several other species may take up residence in abandoned termite galleries. That makes any ant infestation a possible clue that termites may have been present at some time.

Additionally, because many people will not be able to determine whether the swarmers are ants or termites, inspection will be necessary for identification. A treatment plan can then be established based on the findings of the inspection.

If termites are present, there is no question; a treatment is necessary. You should contact Four Seasons Pest Solutions, or your company of choice right away.

Any swarm of insects within 50 to 100 feet of your home or structure should be identified as soon as possible to rule out termites. This will help prevent unnecessary structural damages from untreated termite infestations.

Here at Four Seasons Pest Solutions, we offer inspections for every pest and treatments tailor made for your particular situation. This includes both ants and termites in addition to a plethora of other pests.

And remember, it’s okay to live among pests… but you don’t have to live with them!