Subterranean Termites vs Carpenter Ants

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You've probably heard that termites are more destructive than carpenter ants. You may even know that subterranean termites cost U.S. property owners billions of dollars each and every year while carpenter ants' damage is in the hundreds of millions. But do you know why termites are more destructive than those carpenter ants? If you own a structure that is made of wood, it is a good idea to learn as much as you can about both of these wood-destroying pests. It could save you from a financial nightmare, or the loss of a structure that has personal meaning for you and your family. Here are eight reasons subterranean termites are worse than carpenter ants. In them, you should find all you need to know about both of these wood-chewing insects.

termites inside a new jersey home eating the wood walls


Termites and ants have some similarities. They both develop colonies. They both work together to grow and maintain their colonies. And they both send workers out to get food. But termites don't send out scouts--not that you would see them even if they did. Scouts are ants that search for food sources. They are those individual ants you see crawling around in your home every once in awhile. When they find food, they alert the colony, and workers come out--usually at night--and bring that food back to their nest. If you see a scout ant and realize that it is a warning sign that your home has an infestation, it can lead you to call a pest control company and have that infestation dealt with. Since termites don't give such a warning, an infestation of termites can go on for years without being detected.

Subterranean termites rarely come out of their tunnels

termites in their tunnels

Subterranean termites need moisture to survive. For this reason, you're not going to see them crawling around on the outside of an infested area, unless the infestation is in a moist, shaded location that you're able to get into. Carpenter ants have no such limitation. If you have a carpenter ant infestation in your home, you may see carpenter ants crawling around inside or outside of your home. This is particularly helpful outside. When carpenter ants infest a home, they may be seen on wooden items near the home. Realizing you have an infestation is vital for arresting the damage. If termites infest items in your yard, they're going to be inside those items where you can't see them. As with scouts, detection leads to action, and action leads to extermination. And, as you are probably aware, dead insects don't damage wood.

Subterranean termites consume wood

When subterranean termites come into your home, they don't come out of the walls looking for a bite to eat; your home is their food. And they will eat every inch of it. While carpenter ant damage shouldn't be dismissed, it doesn't tend to be as extensive as termite damage because carpenter ants don't consume wood; they create tunnels and galleries to dwell in. They're not motivated to eat every inch of the wood they're infesting, so damage will always be less extensive. It is also important to understand what kind of wood these insects eat. While both subterranean termites and carpenter ants prefer wood that has been softened by moisture damage, termites can attack hard, sound wood as well.  


Since carpenter ants don't eat wood, they have to do something with all the sawdust they produce. This wood byproduct, called frass, is pushed out of tunnels through kickout holes. The build-up of frass is a warning sign that can lead a homeowner to call a pest control company and have the infestation stopped. This makes it a little harder for a carpenter ant infestation to go undetected. It is only when sawdust builds up in hard-to-see areas, or locations where the sawdust can blend in, that this ceases to be a factor. Both of these insects require time to do the damage they do. The more time they have, the more damage they can do. So warning signs like this are a significant factor.


If you were to hold a termite worker in your hand, you would probably wonder how termites could ever pose a threat to your home. They're not much to look at in terms of size. A typical termite worker is about ¼ of an inch in length. But, your home isn't only attacked by one termite, is it? You can expect thousands of individual termite workers taking away one tiny little piece of your home at a time. When carpenter ants attack your home, they do the same thing. It isn't one little ant, it is thousands. But, there is quite a difference between the size of your average carpenter ant colony and your average subterranean termite colony. A large, mature carpenter ant colony can have upwards of 15,000 individuals in it. While that is a lot, it isn't anything compared to the numbers that can be found in a subterranean termite colony. A single subterranean termite colony can have over a million individuals in it. That's a lot of mouths to feed. So, at the end of the day, termites are worse because there are usually more of them.

Subterranean termites live in the ground

termites underneath a nj home expanding their colony

There can be as many as 14 subterranean termite colonies in one acre of land. And workers from these colonies can travel as far as the distance of a football field in search of food. That means you could have several large colonies feeding on your home at the same time. Carpenter ants can't compete with this, especially if you have a new home that has no wood rot. Carpenter ants establish nests in soft wood. If a property has no rotting wood in the yard and no rotting wood on the home, it is much harder for carpenter ants to create nests--never mind 14 nests. But a yard can have several termite nests in it no matter how new the home is. And those termites can feed on new wood without batting an eyelash--if they had eyelashes.

Subterranean termites never sleep

Termites are simple organisms, so simple they don't even need to sleep. That means they can feed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, depending upon environmental conditions. The only time they slow down is when temperatures drop. But even when there is snow and ice on the ground, subterranean termites can continue to do damage if they find a way into the wood of a home by way of a location that is protected from the cold, like a crawl space or underneath a deck, porch, or patio. Carpenter ants, on the other hand, need to sleep. But they don't sleep the way you might think. When it is time to snooze, they don't go all the way back to their nest. They take a power nap. Sometimes they can take as many as a hundred power naps a day. So, while those carpenter ants are taking a snooze, termites are still hard at work dismantling your home one bite at a time.

Termites are not single-minded

When a worker ant finds a food source it lets the other ants know by laying down a pheromone scent. This inspires the ants to begin a trail from the food source to their nest. Every ant that picks up the scent helps to bring the food back. Termites do not behave this way. When worker termites find wood to feed on, the whole nest doesn't attack the one food source till it's gone. Workers continue to search for more food sources. A single colony can attack a home from multiple contact points.


At the end of the day, it is best to not have either one of these wood-destroying organisms in your home or business. Termites and carpenter ants cause damage to wood that can be a catalyst for greater damage. When support beams or wall studs are weakened by tunnels within, they can bend and warp. This can lead to bulging walls, sinking floors, and dipping ceilings. That's frustrating damage to fix. Tunnels can be hard to trace, and damage can be deep within wood that appears sound on the outside. Often, the only solution is to replace entire portions of a home. Life has enough financial pitfalls, the last thing anyone needs is unexpected insect damage.

If you live in our New Jersey service area, reach out to Arrow Pest Control to request a free estimate. One of our certified termite control professionals will come to your home and do a thorough inspection of your property and guide you in making the right decision about termite service. We've been helping home and business owners guard against pests for over 40 years. Our team has the experience and education to do it right. Don't trust your property to anything less. Touch base with us today.  

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If you’re looking for a program that protects your home and family from common household pests PLUS termites and other wood-destroying insects, we recommend Arrow Premier. With this program, you get quarterly pest control and a wood-destroying insect program in one package! 

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Pests targeted with Arrow’s Premier includes cockroaches, silverfish, spiders, earwigs, clover mites, millipedes, centipedes, crickets, ground beetles, boxelder bugs, ants (including carpenter ants, pharaoh ants and acrobatic), fleas (inside only), pillbugs, sow bugs, fruit flies, stored product pests, bees, wasps, hornets, carpenter bees (no higher than 10ft), mice, and rodents PLUS termites

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