Termites are just White Ants! ... Errr no they're not, they're different insects entirely.

19 March 2017

Termite Damage in a roof space


I was speaking with a home owner recently about termites and they were under the impression that termites were just a different ant that eats wood.  As ants and termites are sometimes mistaken for each other, however they are very different insect groups, the main being:-

Ants: Order Hymenoptera, Family Formicida

Termites: Order Isoptera, several families

Ants: ants are scavengers, with different species foraging for different foods. Some ants live within damp/decaying wood, but do not actually eat the wood

Termites: termites are plant tissue specialists, feeding on wood and grasses, and some species can cause extensive damage to buildings and trees through their feeding and nesting habits

Several key features help to identify them correctly.

Antennae:- Ants: Elbowed. Termites: Simple string of bead-like segments.

Eyes:- Ants: Compound eyes present. Termites: No eyes.

Waist:- (called a pedicel, found between thorax and abdomen) Ants: Present. Termites: Absent.

Abdomen:- Ants: Pointed at end. Termites: Blunt at end.

Castes:- Both ants and termites can be divided up into several ‘castes’, which depend upon their roles in the colony.

Workers:- Ants: Sexually undeveloped females. Termites: Sexually undeveloped males and females.

Soldiers:- Ants: Are workers and may have dual role. Termites: Sexually undeveloped males and females. There are two possible body forms: mandibulate (jawed) and nasute (long-nosed), depending on species.

Reproductives (winged):- Both ants and termites can have a winged stage in their reproductive cycle.

Ants: Fore/hind wings unequal, strongly veined. Termites: (Alate) Fore/hind wings equal, no obvious veins

Life cycle:- Ants: Complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, adult. Termites: Incomplete metamorphosis: egg, nymph, adult (no pupal stage).

The reason it’s important to understand the differences are ants tend to be active during daylight hours and are a nuisance more than posing a risk, however if a large enough colony develops they can cause problems with food contamination, destruction of clothing and floor coverings. Termites however can be directly destructive to the structure of a home, by eating the timber wall and roof framing, skirting and architrave trims as well as the lining paper off plasterboard or gyprock.  They work in concealed tunnels and are active 24 hours a day 7 days a week, a colony may contain over a million individual insects and be upwards of 20 years old. 

A physical barrier such as a mesh in the dampcourse layer or a granite material is no guarantee that your property will be protected from Termite activity as it may only slow down the process of a termite colony finding a gap in the system (less than 1mm is all that’s needed for access) and your property could be at risk from an infestation. 

Treated timber isn’t a guarantee either or even a steel frame as there are plenty of other unprotected cellulose (wood based) products that termites find attractive to eat in any home.  The only guarantee is to remain vigilant and ensure you have an annual inspection done in accordance with the Australian Standard 3660 and maintain the barrier system either chemical or physical.

A sad fact is most houses in Australia are within a short walk of a termite colony so putting something in their way before they enter your home is the logical choice a termite baiting and management system installed to the manufacturers recommendation is something we recommend at Building and Pest Inspections Albury Wodonga.

Visit our web site

Building and Pest Inspections Albury Wodonga

or contact us now on +61427004838 to discuss options to secure your most important and costly investment against timber pests.

Andrew Bounader


34 Years in the building industry. As a technical rep and manager with Boral, OneSteel, Wattyl Paint as well as building and construction, supervision & estimation working with Bricks, Plasterboard, Timber, Reinforcing Steel and Paint as well as designing passive fire and acoustic systems.