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What are the differences between ants and termites

Page history last edited by Ant 12 years, 1 month ago

2010.04.18 What are the differences between ants and termites?


Ants (Hymenoptera, Formicidae):

  • Have bodies which, in the various species, can have many colors ranging from black to orange or yellowish coloring, or various combinations, and even with iridescence. The exoskeleton is opaque, i.e. internal organs cannot be seen from outside(except when very swollen, as in honey ants).
  • Fore- and hindwings differ in size and vein pattern.
  • First two or three segments of abdomen variously constricted and modified into waist-like form.
  • Worm-like larvae emerge from eggs, which grow to adult size, then go through non-feeding pupal stage before reaching adult (typical ant) form.
  • Larvae typicallly eat high protein diet, adults most often have sugary fluids as major dietary component.
  • Range much further from equator, to about 60 degrees north or south latitude.
  • Many adapted to dry climates and forage above ground even in driest deserts.
  • Ovipositor modified into a stinger with associated venom glands used for subduing prey and for defense.
  • Ant colonies are all females, except for the seasonal production of haploid (one set of chromosomes, instead of two) males with very distinct appearance and little or no role in the work of the colony.
  • Note: In all of the above ways, ants are like the wasps to which they are related.


Termites (Isoptera):

  • Workers usually have bodies which appear whitish or light yellowish in coloring. Adult exoskeleton is soft and translucent, with the internal organs of abdomen partially visible from outside. The head is harder, and darker in color. Only a few day-foraging tropical termite species have brown or blackish bodies.
  • Fore- and hindwings of alates similar.
  • First segments of abdomen as broad as those posterior to them.
  • Small termites with body form like adults' emerge from eggs, no pupal stage.
  • Eat cellulose-rich diet which is digested for them by symbiotic microorganisms in their digestive tract.
  • Found mainly within 30 degrees latitude from the equator.
  • Require high humidity, those of drier climates can only come to surface at night or during occasional warm, wet weather.
  • Ovipositor reduced in size and non-functional compared to related insects which use theirs for inserting eggs into substrate.
  • Termite colonies are composed of about equal number of diploid males and females, with similar functions.
  • Note: In all but the first of these, termites are like their relatives, the cockroaches. They are also similiar in many features of their anatomy and morphology. --Dr. Ant



"... this is a common one that many people might be curious about.  Ants and termites share a number of remarkable similarities in their colonial lifestyle, but there are three key physical differences to tell them apart. 

  • Ants have elbowed antennae, where the first segment is much longer than the segments that follow.  By contrast, termites have straight antennae that appear like a string of tiny beads. 
  • Ants also have a characteristically constricted "waist" while termites do not.  In termites the body segments are much more broadly attached.
  • Forewings of reproductive (queen and male) ants are larger than hindwings, while reproductive termites have two sets of wings of similar size and shape, often twice the length of their body.

..." --Tim O'Connor & the AntAsk team on Ant Blog (click to read more details since not everything was mentioned).

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