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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
Ant and Termite Differences
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The Differences in Ants and Termites

Posted by John Fulton -

With some warmer weather comes the swarms of insects that raise that perennial question of "Are they ants or termites?" Swarming time for both insects is about the same time, and they are really looking to start new colonies because they have outgrown their old ones. This is the reason for the winged insects, as the wings allow the ants or termites to cover larger areas to start their new colonies. With the number of samples coming in over the past week, this is a very appropriate topic for this week's column. The differences between ants and termites are several.

Let's start with the body color. Termites are always blackish in color, while ants may be black, red, brown, or other colors. If you have winged insects that are not black, you don't have termites. Next, look at the body shape. Ants have a constricted "waist" while termites don't have that classic "hour-glass" figure. Antennae and wings are the other two body parts to look at. Antennae on ants are elbowed, basically in an "L" shape, and those on termites are straight. Both ants and termites have two pair of wings, but those on termites will be of equal length while ants will have wings of different lengths on each side.

Looking through those entomology fact sheets also brings up a few important points in the event that you do have termites. First, don't assume that the house will fall in overnight. Take the time to get several bids from reputable companies for the treatment. Make sure you compare cost, service, and guarantees. Second, termites are pretty much a professional treatment job, unless you have an exposed foundation such as in a new construction project. Third, there are traditional treatments to kill the insects, and other treatments which render them incapable of reproducing. Drenches, pressure injection, and bait stations are all options.

One of the first signs of termite infestation is usually mud tubes. These tubes are made of the sand, soil, or other ground materials located where the termites exit the ground. We have the subterranean termites in our area, and they need humidity. One way they can move above ground is to have the mud tubes which provide the moist air, and keep them out of sunlight. Unlike the winged termites, the ones doing the damage are colorless since they are never exposed to light. Mud tubes aren't always visible, as they may be located inside concrete blocks or other structures used in construction.

If ants are your problem, use of bait stations or baseboard sprays may help solve your problems. Many of the bait station programs will require a good week to ten days to be effective. If you want to speed along control, or just like to see the dead insects with a revenge motive, you can combine the baseboard sprays with the bait stations after the couple of weeks of just the bait stations. Remember that damage done by ants, even carpenter ants, is not structurally damaging to your home in the manner of termites. They simply make a nesting hole in wood rather than digest it.

If you have further questions on termites, or the do-it-yourself identification doesn't seem to work, by all means contact your local Extension Office. The number in Logan County is 217-732-8289 or Sangamon County is 217-782-4617.

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