Identifying Carpenter Ant vs Termite

July 6, 2020

As you get ready to call an Exterminator, you realize they’re going to ask “so what seems to be the problem?” You could just reply that “something’s flying in and out of my woodwork!” or you sound like a Pro with a quick check of 4 things and tell them exactly what pest you have.

Take a look at these four signs of carpenter ants vs termites and try to match 3 to ID the pest on your property. When the Exterminator gets there you can see if you were right!

Carpenter Ant Debris vs Termite Debris

Termites and Carpenter ants both live behind some form of debris. The trick is being able to tell which pests left behind the debris in your home or business.

Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants, contrary to popular belief, do not actually consume wood. This means that they need somewhere to put all of the wood they chew up to make their tunnels. They build holes into their galleries which they use to dispose of their debris. This results in piles of sawdust around their nests. Carpenter ant sawdust looks more or less like regular sawdust, except that it appears in small piles where no woodworking has been done.


A common termite-related question is do termites leave sawdust? Unlike carpenter ants, termites consume wood for nutrition. As such, they do not leave behind piles of sawdust after making tunnels. The debris termites leave behind is their excrement, which they dispose of in piles outside of their nests. Termite excrement, also called frass, comes in the form of pellets. These pellets are all uniformly shaped, so piles of them are easy to tell apart from carpenter ant debris.

Structural Carpenter Ant Damage vs Termite Damage

Carpenter ants and termites can cause a lot of damage in homes and businesses because they tend to stay hidden. The structural damage they cause can be hard to spot because it is not out in the open. There are some signs, though, that can help identify an infestation.

Carpenter Ants

Structural Damage from carpenter ants can be especially difficult to spot. If sawdust piles and worker carpenter ants are spotted in an area, there is a good chance that a nest has been established somewhere nearby. Look for wood that appears chipped or scraped, especially in areas where the wood has no reason to be chipped or scraped. Another indicator of structural damage is small holes. As previously mentioned, carpenter ants create small holes which they use to dispose of their debris. Look near any sawdust piles for these telltale holes.


Structural damage from termites can be slightly easier to spot than damage from carpenter ants. It actually looks a lot like water damage in most cases. Walls bulge, ceilings and floors sag, and wallpaper bubbles. Infestations can also cause a smell similar to that of mold or mildew.

There are several types of termites in Florida and New Jersey. Different types of termites will give different indicators of structural damage. Subterranean termites create tunnels in order to access above-ground food sources. These tunnels are made from mud, saliva, and feces, and they are found around the foundation of an infested structure. Indicators of a drywood termite infestation may not show up until there is already substantial damage. When this is the case, the veneer cracks, revealing the tunnels underneath.

Carpenter Ant Nests vs Termite Nests

Carpenter ant nests and termite nests are usually built deep within structures. Because of this, they are rarely stumbled upon. However, if they are seen, it is important for treatment purposes to decipher which pest built the nest. The nests of the two pests can look similar to one another, but there are some key differences.

Carpenter Ants

The insides of carpenter ant nests are surprisingly clean. The ants remove all debris from the nest, and they clean and polish the galleries. This causes the tunnels and galleries to have a smooth appearance. Carpenter ants remove wood in line with the grain, which creates thin ribs of wood. These ribs separate areas of the nest.


The appearance of termite nests differs depending on species. Subterranean termites generally build their nests underground because they need a lot of moisture. Their nests are made up of galleries that are connected by tunnels made of mud. Subterranean termites will also build tunnels of mud that connect to food sources, like the wood in homes and businesses. Some of these tunnels can reach as high as several feet above the ground.

Drywood termites, unlike their subterranean counterparts, actually build their nests within their food source. This means that they never have to leave a home or business once their nest is established. Their nests are also made up of many galleries, but they lack the mud tunnels that are characteristic of subterranean termite nests.


There are multiple methods of treatment for both pests. Some of the methods used for carpenter ants are similar to those used for termites. However, the ingredients in the treatments are specific to the pest, so a treatment that works for carpenter ants will not work for termites.

Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ant infestations are usually treated with a combination of methods. Baiting is a very common approach. For this technique, bait stations with poisoned food are placed around a home or business. When the ants carry the bait back to their colony, it kills any ants that eat it. Spraying is often used alongside baiting and it works in a similar way. The spray gets onto the ants’ bodies and is carried back to the nest where it kills members of the colony.

There are two methods used to attack a carpenter ant nest directly- foams and dusts. Both are injected into a colony and kill the carpenter ants. Dusts work more quickly than foams, but they do not cover as wide of an area as foams.


As with carpenter ants, there are a few different ways to treat a termite infestation. A common method is a barrier treatment. A termiticide is sprayed on soil around a home or business to create a barrier that termites cannot cross. Another method is termite baits, which work in the same way that carpenter ant baits do.

Wood treatments can also be effective in eliminating a termite infestation. For these treatments, a foam or liquid termiticide is injected into affected areas, which kills off the colony and prevents future colonies from nesting in the same area. Wood treatments can also be done on building materials used for the construction of a home or business in order to prevent termite infestations.


Carpenter ants and termites are two pests that should not be taken lightly. They can cause immense structural damage when left untreated, so it is vital to get any infestations taken care of right away. If you think you may have carpenter ants or termites on your property, call our experts today. At Excel, we know that each situation is different. We will perform a full inspection and customize a carpenter ant, regular ant or termite treatment program based on your specific needs. We treat infestations on your property safely and effectively, so you won’t have to worry about any further damage caused by these costly pests.