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Ants and termites are sometimes mistaken for each other, however they are very different insect groups.

Ant, Order Hymenoptera, family Formicidae
Ant, Order Hymenoptera, family Formicidae Image: Andrew Howells
© Australian Museum

Several key features help to identify them correctly


  • Ants: Elbowed.
  • Termites: Simple string of bead-like segments.


  • Ants: Compound eyes present.
  • Termites: No eyes.

Waist (called a pedicel, found between thorax and abdomen)

  • Ants: Present.
  • Termites: Absent.


  • Ants: Pointed at end.
  • Termites: Blunt at end.

SEM of a termite worker
Scanning Electron microscopy of a termite worker - Coptotermes sp Image: Sue Lindsay
© Australian Museum


Both ants and termites can be divided up into several ‘castes’, which depend upon their roles in the colony.


  • Ants: Sexually undeveloped females.
  • Termites: Sexually undeveloped males and females.


  • Ants: Are workers and may have dual role.
  • Termites: Sexually undeveloped males and females. There are two possible body forms: mandibulate (jawed) and nasute (long-nosed), depending on species.

Reproductives (winged)

  • Both ants and termites can have a winged stage in their reproductive cycle.
  • Ants: Fore/hind wings unequal, strongly veined
  • Termites: Fore/hind wings equal, no obvious veins

Life cycle

  • Ants: Complete metamorphosis: egg, larva, pupa, adult
  • Termites: Incomplete metamorphosis: egg, nymph, adult (no pupal stage)


  • Ants: ants are scavengers, with different species foraging for different foods. Some ants live within damp/decaying wood, but do not actually eat the wood.
  • Termites: termites are plant tissue specialists, feeding on wood and grasses, and some species can cause extensive damage to buildings and trees through their feeding and nesting habits.

Scientific classification

  • Ants: Order Hymenoptera, Family Formicidae
  • Termites: Order Isoptera, several families