4 Bugs That Look Like Termites And How To Know Them

termite leaving the mound

Have you ever wondered about bugs that look like termites? If so, then you’re at the right place.

Termites are insects many people have heard of. However, not many people have seen it. This makes it quite difficult for the common person to differentiate it from other bugs.

From the stories you might have heard, you already know that termites are bad news. They are pests that destroy properties worth millions of dollars every year. Termite infestation can be the doom to your house if not well handled.

Since termites don’t stand out, you might easily mistake them for other bugs. Therefore the worst mistake that can happen to you is to ignore a brewing termite infestation because you think it is a harmless bug.

What are these bugs that look like termites?

First of all, we will have to talk about how to identify termites before knowing other bugs that look like them. In this article, we will be covering 5 bugs that look like termites.

What Do Termites Look Like?

soldier termite climbing mounds [bugs that look like termites]

You probably just generalize every bug that looks like a termite to be a termite. Moreover, even if you know what termites look like, you likely think that is how all termites look.

However, in reality, there are up to a hundred species of termites with about forty species found in the US alone. That’s quite a number.

Although these species look similar, there are striking features that differentiate one from the other. I guess you wouldn’t know all these since you are not an entomologist.

Termites in general can have color that ranges from white to shades of brown depending on the species. However, the most common color you find on termites is reddish or shades of brown.

In contrast to many other insects, termites are known to have straight antennae. They also have a three-segment body, although their broad waist makes it appear like termites have two segment bodies.

Termites have long and ovate bodies and generally measure about 0.25 – 0.5 inches in length. These bugs are known to have wings twice their size. All four wings are equal in size.

The four most common species of termites are the damp wood termite, the Formosan termite, dry wood termite, and subterranean termite.

Damp wood termites are the largest species. As the name suggests, this specie of termites colonize areas with high moisture content such as damp woods.

Damp wood termites are not typically found in homes. They usually infest areas in semi-arid and coastal areas such as Florida. However, without necessary precaution, damp wood termites can find their way into your home.

Formosan termites are the most vicious to your property. Its name stems from the suspicion that the species originated from China and Taiwan. Compared to other species, Formosan termites are more aggressive wood eaters.

Once they infest your home, it is quite difficult to exterminate. This species is the one known to build mud nests on your wall that can contain 20,000 members in each. They are common in California, Virginia, Texas, and a few other states in the US.

Dry wood termite is the common termite we see in our homes. They are likely to infest houses since they do not need soil to thrive. They can hide in wooden properties or anywhere with deadwood.

Even though they are called dry wood termites, they can tolerate a bit of moisture. Therefore you can also see them near the heater or in leaky pipes. You mostly find this species in North Carolina and suburban California.

Subterranean termites are likely the most common termites in the US because it is found in 49 states except Alaska. This specie of termite lives underground hence their colonies are in the soil. However, the moist structure above ground isn’t out of bound to this specie of termites.

They can grow to about 2 million members per colony. This is because subterranean termites are the most fertile termite species reproductively. When it comes to property destruction, they are said to be on par with the Formosan termites.

Due to a large number of these termite species, they build unique tubes that will continue serving as access to the food supply in your home.

Now we have an idea of what termites look like, let’s take a peep at other bugs that look like termites. In this article, we will discuss 4 other bugs that look like termites.

4 Bugs That Look Like Termites

In the section above, we’ve talked about features that can help you identify a termite in general. Now, we’ll go ahead to talk about those bugs that you can mistake for a termite.

1. Carpenter Ants

carpenter ant on dried leaf

Carpenter ants are one of the easiest bugs to mistake for termites. This is possibly due to their similar sizes and shape. Moreover, carpenter ants tend to swarm in large groups to find mates just like termites do.

Except for Alaska, termites live in every state in the US. This is different for carpenter ants since they are mostly found along eastern U.S. states. Hence geography is also a differentiating factor.

The body structure of the carpenter ant is distinctly divided into three segments, unlike the termite. They have a narrow waist which makes the three segments of the body visible. Such body structure can be comparable to that of a wasp.

Just like termites, carpenter ants can also have wings. The length of each wing is roughly the same size as its body. However, the front pair is usually longer than the hind pair.

These bugs also have antennae; however, they are elbowed in the middle. This is a unique differentiating quality between termites and carpenter ants.

An obvious difference between these two bugs is their mode of destruction. Carpenter ants bore holes through wooden properties to make a tunnel while termites eat up the wood.

Carpenter ants create shredded wood debris called frass outside their nest. This frass is later pushed further away from the tunnel as they excavate. The tunnel gallery of carpenter ants is usually smooth with a clean inner surface. This makes it appear to be sanded.

The sight of mud tubes is an indication of termite infestation. Therefore it shouldn’t be overlooked as it can rapidly become a costly mistake.

Carpenter ants possess strong jaws and therefore can deal a great deal of damage to properties. They can even bite you and spray formic acid into the wound making it very painful. These are their defensive mechanisms when threatened.

If you’re asking how carpenter ants can get into your home, here is your answer. It gets into your house through cracks and crevices in doors, windows, walls, flooring, etc. Moist and damaged wood attracts these bugs.

Carpenter AntsTermites
Elbowed antennaeStraight antennae
Two pairs of wings with the same length as the bodyTwo pairs of wings with twice the size of the body
Front and hind wings have different lengthAll four wings are of equal length
Leave frass behindLeave dry fecal pellets
Narrow waist with 3 obvious segmentsBroad waist with only two visible segments

2. Carpenter Bees

carpenter bees on flower

Also called wood bees, these bugs are independent, unlike the termites. Many can live on the same piece of wood but they live separately.

These bugs are large measuring about 0.5 to 1. 5 inches. They are colored with black and yellow stripes on their body with a bit of metallic reflection.

They are called wood bees because they excavate wood but do not eat them, unlike termites. They bore holes in woods just to prepare space to lay their eggs. Hence the galleries rerated in the wood are left with eggs while the ants continuously deposit pollen to wrap the eggs as protection.

The nest of carpenter bees can be mistaken for the “kick-out” hole made by termites. However, if you look closer you will see that the funneling hole made by carpenter bees is much deeper than that of the termite.

Outside the carpenter bee’s funneling hole you will find piles of yellow sawdust material. Moreover, as a female carpenter bee makes her nest, she produces sticky yellow waste material that gathers outside. The stain you see on your wooden furniture is a result of this sticky waste material.

Carpenter bees are quite picky as they don’t bore holes in every wood. They prefer finished weathered or unpainted wood. In the end, they leave this wood stained. They also prefer funneling holes on softwood rather than hardwood.

This specie of bug is not considered to be a structural pest. This is because they do not bore holes in the wood itself. Just one carpenter bee will not impact your woodwork significantly. However, a swarm of carpenter bees nesting in your woodwork can weaken it or riddle it with stains.

Flying carpenter bees sounds like a helicopter. That loud reverberating sound can be annoying and alarming. Most of the carpenter bees swarming around to create that echoing sound are males.

However, it is nothing to be frightened about since the male carpenter bees don’t have stingers. Therefore they sound deadlier than they actually are. It is only the female bees that have stingers and rarely attack humans.

Carpenter BeesTermites
Independent insectsLive in swarms
Round bodies measuring about 1 inchElongated bodies of less than an inch
Black and yellow stripesReddish, brown, black, or white.
Produce yellow sticky waste outside the tunnelLeave fecal pellets at entrance
1-inch funneling hole1mm kick-out hole

3. Acrobat Ant

acrobat ants on green leaf

This name definitely piques your interest. You are already wondering why acrobat is used in naming an ant. It turns out that the name is given because of this ant’s ability to raise its abdomen over its head or thorax.

They might raise it higher when disturbed to resemble a tiny spider. Acrobat ants do not cause harm but can bite you if disturbed.

Acrobat ants are very adaptive and can even be found in high-altitude areas. There are many species of acrobat ants and that determines their color. Therefore their color can range from yellow to shiny dark brown or even black. Sometimes you can even find multicolored acrobat ants.

Acrobat ants have a hierarchy. The worker ants are usually the smallest measuring about 3.2mm. On the other hand, the queen acrobat ant is the biggest at 10mm.

One of the most unique characteristics that differentiate them from termites is their possession of six legs. They also have a flat and segmented body with a heart-shaped abdomen.

Acrobat ants can gain entrance into your home through tiny cracks and crevices on your doors and windows. They travel through tree branches or along utility lines to access these openings into your home. When they’ve gained entrance into your home, they form their nest in wood with high moisture content.

While they look harmless, these bugs can bite or emit a foul-smelling odor when disturbed. Compared to termites or carpenter ants, acrobat ants do not cause as much wood damage. However, they can cause a short circuit in your electricity.

Even though acrobat ants can enter your home, they usually form their nests outdoors in suitable conditions. When found indoors, acrobat ants usually inhabit the nest of old pests such as termites. By doing so, they do not cause further damage to your woodworks.

Since acrobat ants inherit nests made by old pests, you may see signs of termite infestation where ants are nesting. This just means that termites originally made the nest and damaged the woodwork while at it. Acrobat ants are just living in it.

Acrobat AntsTermites
Elbowed antennaStraight antenna
Heart-shaped middle bodyStraight mid-sections
Inhabit old nests made by other pestsMake their own nests
Causes electrical damageCauses wood damage

4. Powderpost Beetles

powderpost beetle in white background

This is the name given to several wood-boring beetles. The most common type of powderpost beetle is the anobiid beetle also known as furniture beetle. Infestation by powderpost beetles is usually found in areas with high temperature and humidity such as coastal and southeastern states in the U.S.

The larvae of powderpost beetles are notorious for pulverizing wood into powdered particles. This can cause a great deal of damage to your woodwork. On the other hand, the adult powderpost beetle isn’t as aggressive. When you see pinholes in your woodwork, then you know that adult beetles have emerged.

Unfortunately, the dominant part of the lifecycle of powderpost beetles is the larvae stage. Therefore by the time you notice the adult powderpost beetles, it might be too late as the damage has already been done.

They are about the same size as termites measuring around 0.25 inches. They have a flat but elongated body with a color that ranges from reddish brown to black. The aggressive larvae have notable brown heads with a cream-colored body.

Powderpost beetles seek damp or moist wood. They are usually found in firewood, basements, barns, lumber stored outdoors, etc. Outside the house, they can be found in saps of wood where the concentration of starch and sugar is highest.

Powderpost beetles might be easy to eliminate, however, their re-infestation rate is very high. This makes these beetles quite a nuisance.

In your home, you would typically find these beetles in wooden furniture, stored lumber, rafters, joists, etc. It is not uncommon to mistake powderpost beetles for subterranean termites.

While you might feel relieved that you are not dealing with termites, powderpost beetles do as much damage to your woodwork as termites. Therefore it is important to eliminate these beetles as fast as possible to protect your wooden furniture.

Powderpost BeetlesTermites
Pulverizes wood to flour-like powderEats wood and leaves fecal pellets
Prefer damp or unfinished woodInfests any kind of wood
Presence of exit holes in woodLeaves residue pile behind
Exit holes are less than one-eighth of an inchHoles are about 1mm

Bugs That Look Like Flying Termites

flying termite in grass

While we’ve talked about bugs that look like termites in general, let’s run through those other bugs that look like flying termites. So what is the difference here?

The bugs in this category all have wings and are similar to winged termites. So how would you differentiate them? We would just talk a little about each bug.

Mayflies

This bug only looks like termites when they are flying. When you look at them closely if they are stationary, you can easily tell them apart from flying termites.

The similar features with termites include;

  • Similar active seasons
  • Mayflies, just like termites, swarm too
  • Like flying termites, mayflies are active after the rain
  • They are attracted to light just like flying termites

Being more common than termites, you can confuse one for the other. This can turn out to be a regretful mistake. This is because you might think termites are mayflies and fail to plan for extermination. This would result in severe damage to properties.

Mayflies lay their eggs on water bodies. Therefore if you have a swimming pool or pond, you are prone to having mayflies. This is why mayflies are a nuisance in Florida and some other states.

Mayflies are bigger than flying termites as they grow up to an inch. They come in varying colors ranging from white to brown. In contrast to termites, mayflies generally come in lighter colors.

Mayflies have four wings just like flying termites. However, the two front wings are bigger than the two hind wings. In addition, mayflies have very short antennas which are not very visible.

These flies are harmless and don’t bite because they lack a developed mouth part. Fortunately, mayflies are not known to spread diseases.

Mayflies can serve as an indicator of the health of our ecosystem. This is because they are sensitive to toxins and cannot survive in a polluted environment. While they might be a nuisance, seeing mayflies around means your environment is clean.

Other bugs like look like flying termites include;

  • Green lacewing
  • Flying ants

What Does A Termite Look like?

termites crawling on soil

So when you see a bug that looks like a termite, there are simple steps you can take to determine if it is actually a termite or not.

You would have to trap one of these bugs in a cup or jar for closer inspection. In this case, you’re looking for features that are specific to termites. These distinctive characteristics include flat, ovate, and elongated bodies, straight pairs of antennae, and shiny black or brown color.

The wings are also a distinctive feature of termites. Termites have two pairs of wings and they are all of equal sizes. However, note that soldier termites do not have wings. They are translucent and have pincers near the head.

Termites are usually smaller than many other insects measuring about 0.25 to 0.5 inches.

When you sight bugs that look like termites, you should be on the lookout for signs of termite infestation. The first place you would check is your wooden furniture. Tap it to check if the sound is hollow. Moreover, watch out for termite droppings.

The most typical sign of termite infestation is the presence of tube-shaped mounds along your wall. They serve as a passageway to carry food into their nest.

Conclusion – Bugs That Look Like Termites

Termites destroy properties worth millions of dollars every year. They are very aggressive regarding wooden properties be it your ceiling, furniture, cabinet, etc. These bugs bore through wood and destroy the structure and integrity of your woodwork.

Unfortunately, a lot of insects look like termites. Therefore one can easily mistake termites for other bugs. Doing this can be a costly mistake as it would be too late by the time you find out those bugs are actually termites.

Therefore to be sure, catch one of the suspected bugs and do a thorough inspection. If the antennas are bent or the wings are not the same size, then it is possibly an ant.

However, if the characteristics of this suspected bug are in line with that of a termite, then you better start planning for extermination. The best course of action would be to look for a professional exterminator.

When it comes to termites, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Therefore it is better to call a professional exterminator and have them tell you that you don’t have a termite problem. Termites are easy to eliminate if done right.