Common Bugs That look Like Termites

The National Pest Management Association says that termites damage more than $5 billion worth of property in the United States alone every year.

The most destructive type of termite, the subterranean species, feeds around the clock, so this dangerous pest never goes on vacation.

Most of us can tell the difference between the bugs and insects we see most often in and around our homes.

Mosquitoes, roaches, and flies all have very different appearances. But when it comes to other bugs, we don’t know much at all.

Different pests need different ways to get rid of them. Let’s talk about what bugs look like termites and how to tell them apart so you can keep these pests away from your home.

Black Carpenter Ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus)

Close up of Black Carpenter Ant or Camponotus pennsylvanicus (winged male) on white background

Because termites and winged ants look the same in size and shape, it’s easy to mix them up. This is especially true for Carpenter Ants.

The color of termites and carpenters is either black or dark brown. Their lengths range from 0.25 to 0.5 inches.

Both have two sets of wings as well. Carpenter Ants, on the other hand, have longer front wings than back wings.

Not all Carpenter Ants have wings, just like not all termites do.

Carpenter Ants have a narrow thorax and antennae that are bent, and the wood tunnels they make are smooth.

On the other hand, termites have a wide chest and straight antennae, and the tunnels they make in wood are rough.

Acrobat Ants

Acrobat ant on an anthill in the woods basking in the spring sun after a long snowy winter.

Acrobat ants are like carpenter ants in a lot of ways. They have a segmented body, like the carpenter ant, but not like a termite.

This type of light brown or black ant lives in wood. The queen acrobat ant can be up to three-eighths of an inch long. Most acrobat ants are about one-eighth of an inch long.

Powderpost beetles

Close up of Black Powderpost Beetle on white background

A powderpost beetle can do just as much damage to a house as a termite. As they eat, they tunnel into wood and break it up into a powder-like substance.

All of this happens below the surface of the wood. Two signs of an infestation are this powdery substance and small holes in the wood.

Powderpost beetles are good at hiding and do most of their work at night, so you probably won’t see them. Some are drawn to sunlight, so you might find one near a damaged piece of wood or a window.

Powderpost beetles don’t look much like termites or ants, other than having six legs and being insects in general.

People think they are termites because of the damage they do, not because of how they look. But here’s what they look like if you do see one:

  • Size is 1/8 inch to 3/4 inch long
  • Color varies from reddish brown to black
  • bodies are thin, and their heads hang down, hidden by their cylindrical bodies.

Carpenter bees

Close up of Two Carpenter bees

Carpenter bees, unlike termites, are independent insects. Inside a wood tunnel, each female carpenter bee has her own nest. The same piece of wood can be home to more than one carpenter bee, but each bee still lives on its own.

Carpenter bees make funnel-shaped holes that are about half an inch across.

Not only do these bugs look like termites, but their nest is often mistaken for a “kick-out” hole in dry wood made by termites.

though, take a closer look. Most termite kick-out holes are only 1 mm wide, which is much smaller than the funneling hole of a carpenter bee.

You can see piles of yellow sawdust under the hole where the carpenter bee feeds.

As the female carpenter bee makes her nest, she pushes this chewed wood out of the tunnel.

She also makes yellow waste that sticks together outside the entrance to the tunnel. On your wooden building, this waste might look like a dark yellow stain.

Carpenter bees have these traits:

  • Carpenter bees live from Arizona to Florida in the south and from New York to the north in the east.
  • Make yellow waste outside the entrance to the tunnel.
  • Half an inch wide holes for funneling
  • Independent insects with private tunnels
  • Yellow circles the front and back of a black shirt.
  • Bodies about an inch long and round

Is it an insect or a termite?

If you aren’t sure if a bug is a termite or not, there are some easy ways to find out.

The first step is to look at the insect closely. You need to get a hold of one for this.

Even though it might be uncomfortable, you have to catch a termite because they look like many other insects.

Trap the bug in a cup or mason jar and look for the telltale signs of a termite: straight antennae, a flat, oval, and long body, and a shiny black, silver, or brown color.

The wings can also tell you if it’s a termite or not. There are two sets of wings on a termite. All of them are the same size and length.

If they lose some wings, it means they have gotten together and made a colony.

Pay attention to the size. Some kinds of ants are bigger than termites. These bugs are only 0.25 to 0.5 inches long. They can’t really get any bigger.

Since they can only be seen if there is a growing termite infestation in the home, you might also need to know signs of infestation to know where they are nesting in your home.

First, take a look at the wood parts of the house. Tap it and listen carefully to see if it sounds hollow.

If it is, that means there is a termite colony there. Infestation can also be seen in the form of sagging ceilings.

Also, keep an eye out for termite poop. They are small and brown, and look like small pellets. If there are a lot of them, they tend to pile up in one place.

Tube-shaped mounds along the walls are the most obvious sign of an infestation.

Overnight, they build these mud tubes, which they use as tunnels to bring food to the main colony.


Termites are a big reason to worry. They can do a lot of damage, like eat away at wood, get into your home’s structure, and make your ceilings sag.

There are a lot of services to get rid of termites. Termite control services have been able to make money over the years because they are hard to get rid of.