What’s the difference between termites and winged ants?

Question: I was replacing two window screens, and when I took apart the aluminum frame what appeared as hundreds, if not thousands, of what looked like termites flew out from within the aluminum frames. Looking at the wood around the window frame, I could not see any evidence of termites, only inside the aluminum frame.

I have not taken off any other window screens as this was two of two. I was not aware that termites would nest in an aluminum frame. No apparent tracks from the screen into the window frame were visible. Were these really termites or some other type of flying ant?

ANSWER: Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between winged ants and winged termites. There are three body parts that are distinctive—waist, wings and antennae. You have to look closely. It may help to have a magnifying glass. The differences are:

  1. Winged ants have a pinched “waist.” Winged termites have a broad waist. They appear more tubular than ants do .
  2. Winged ants (swarmers) have a pair of large front wings and a smaller pair of back wings. Winged termites have two pair of same-sized wings.
  3. Ants have bent or “elbowed” antennae. Termites have straight antennae.

The best resource you have is your Orkin Termite Specialist or Termite Inspector. Call your local Orkin Branch Office and set up for a comprehensive whole home inspection.  A customized treatment plan, backed by science, will be developed to tackle either of these two pests you may be encountering.

Termite Swarmer
Winged Termite

Flying Ant
Flying Ant

Thank you for your response. I can say having the swarms within the aluminum frames of two window screens really was a puzzle to me. I guess that means I probably have ant colonies sitting inside the aluminum frames of other window screens. Ants were not visible around the outside of the frames, nor in the windows, nor along the inside or outside walls. I will probably put ant bait granules on the outside window frames with the hope that they are taken inside the frames. Any other suggestions?


ANSWER: Controlling carpenter ants is only part of the task. Then you have to figure out how and why the wood was moisture damaged and solve that problem—or the ants will be back, and the wood will get worse.

Related Questions:
The Orkin Man used the information above to also answer the following questions submitted by Orkin.com users:

Question: We have small bugs like ants with wings on the back of them. What would they be?

Question: Hi, I found some kind of insects that hatched … all over my mobile home. They leave things behind that look like wings, separated, with a black vein. They themselves are brown and are about 1/4 in. long and skinny. Do you know what they are? Please help.

Question: I live in a rural area, and have a dog and equine. I have 2 questions, 1st: In a few colonies I have found ants with wings, are they flying ants or termites? 2nd: What is the best way to eliminate ants from my pasture without harming my animals?

Question: I have these little black bugs that have wings on them in my house. The wings have small white markings on them. I know that they are not termites, but I cannot figure out what they are and where they are coming from. Can you give me your thoughts?

Question: How do you tell if you have termites? Had some winged insects that came out after a heavy snow day between sidewalk and brick patio.

Question: I noticed a hole in the baseboard and found tiny insects crawling out.

Question: I have some kind of insect outside that stays mainly in swarms. It looks like an ant, some are small and some are huge, and they have long wings that extend past their bottom. They don’t have stingers that we can see. Any ideas on what these might be?? And what we can do to get rid of them?

Question: I am finding light-brown winged bugs in my toilets. Are they termites? If not, do you have an idea of what they might be?


Our Pest Library

Find out more about your suspects

Our Pest Library is full of up-to-date information on termites, ants, and cockroaches as well as more than 25 common household pests. Find out more information about their behavior, habits, and other cool facts.

Ask Your Question

Still didn’t find an answer to your question? Ask us on Google+ or fill out the form below and we’ll get right back to you with an answer. For service and billing questions please message us here.