The key difference between carpenter ants and termites is that carpenter ants are hymenopterans while termites are isopterans.
Both termites and carpenter ants are famous for their ability to destroy wood and most of the cellulose media. Although they are closely related in terms of taxonomic class (insect), they belong to two taxonomic orders. Moreover, understanding their habits and habitats would also help us to understand the difference between carpenter ants and termites.
What are Carpenter Ants?
Carpenter ants are members of the Genus: Camponotus of Family: Formicidae in Order: Hymenoptera. There are more than one thousand species of carpenter ants distributed in many places in the world. This high number of species for one particular genus is a real speciality about the carpenter ants. Their high ecological adaptability could be one of the reasons for their extraordinary diversification. Carpenter ants can be found in many habitats including dead woods, moist woods, tree roots, tree stumps, tree logs, and many other places. Sometimes they also live inside the soil, especially when parts of trees are buried. Furthermore, we can observe carpenter ants in both inside and outside of many types of wood.
Another special characteristic of carpenter ants is that they do not feed on the wood although they destroy wood they inhabit. After destroying the habitat, the remnants are fine dust of wood called frass.
Carpenter ants have a symbiotic relationship with a bacteria known as Blochmannia. Wolbachia is another bacterial symbiotic organism of the carpenter ants. The ant provides the living environment for bacteria, while they get biosynthesized essential amino acids and nutrients from the microorganism in return. Carpenter ants develop wings as they grow into the last stage of the lifecycle, the reproductive age.
What are Termites?
Termites evolved on the Earth 140 million years ago. Termites belong to the Order: Isoptera with about 4000 estimated species. There are more than 2600 described termite species by far. Sometimes, we call termites ‘white ants’ because of the typical colour of their body. In addition, termite bodies are soft, and they do not have a very distinct waist. Their habitats can be either soil or wood. Scientists say that termites are eusocial animals; i.e. they have a very higher level of social organization.
The colonies consist of different castes depending on the size of the individual: nest workers, foragers, and soldiers. Both male and female termites can fall into any category. Nest workers care for the eggs and make the nest by chewing the wood, in case of a wooden habitat. Foragers are responsible for finding food while soldiers always guard the home against attacks because there are frequent attacks by ants on the termite colonies. In the termites’ social structure, any individual can progress up to the reproductive stage (wings are developed by now) to mate with a female. Once a male finds the sexual partner, the wings are shed for the rest of the life.
What is the Difference Between Carpenter Ants and Termites?
The key difference between carpenter ants and termites is that carpenter ants are hymenopterans while termites are isopterans. Moreover, carpenter ants have only one genus whereas termites have a number of genera. There is also a difference between carpenter ants and termites based on their structure. While carpenter ants have three distinct body segments, termites have only two body segments. In addition, carpenter ants have a thin and narrow waist, but termites have a broad waist.
The following infographic presents more details about the difference between carpenter ants and termites.
Summary – Carpenter Ants and Termites
The key difference between carpenter ants and termites is their taxonomic orders; carpenter ants are hymenopterans while termites are isopterans. In addition, there is a distinct difference between carpenter ants and termites according to their structure, habits, and habitats.
1. “Carpenter ant Tanzania crop” By Muhammad Mahdi Karim – Own work (GFDL 1.2) via Commons Wikimedia
2. “CSIRO ScienceImage 3915 Mastotermes darwiniensis Giant Northern Termite” By CSIRO (CC BY 3.0) via Commons Wikimedia