Ants and termites are different in a number of ways. These ways include their physical characteristics, habitat, diet, colony structure, and life cycle.
Here’s a table summarizing their key differences:
|Body Shape||Narrow and pinched waists||Straight and broad waists|
|Antennae||Elbowed antennae||Straight antennae|
|Wings||Short, different-sized wings||Long, uniform-sized wings|
|Nesting Habits||Live in nests or mounds made from soil, leaves, or twigs||Live in large underground or above-ground colonies made from mud, saliva, and feces|
|Diet||Predominantly carnivorous, but some species also feed on nectar, fruits, or seeds||Feeds on wood and plant material for cellulose|
|Social Structure||Predominantly female. 2 female castes: queens and workers 1 male caste: drones||Males and females in all castes. 3 castes: reproductives, workers, and soldiers|
|Life Cycle||Complete metamorphosis.||Incomplete metamorphosis|
In this article, we’ll look deeper into these differences.
You can easily distinguish ants and termites through their physical characteristics. For one, they differ in terms of color. Ants can have different colors and are generally dark. On the other hand, termites are translucent and colored light brown or white. 
They also vary in terms of their waists, antennae, and wings.
- Waists: Ants have narrow and pinched waists while termites have straight broad ones. Think of termites as the number 0 while ants are the number 8.
- Antennae: Ants have elbowed or bent antennae. On the other hand, termite antennae are straight and gently curved.
- Wings: Ants have small and different-sized wings. Their hind wings are shorter than their forewings. In contrast, termite wings are long and of the same size.
Another difference between ants and termites is their habitat. Ants live in a variety of environments, including woodlands, forests, and even deserts. They build their nests in soil, wood, leaf litter, or under rocks.
Termites, on the other hand, are mainly found in warm and humid environments. They build their nests out of wood, soil, and their own excrement.
Ants and termites have different diets. Ants are omnivorous and eat a variety of foods, including insects, nectar, and plant matter. Some species of ants even farm other insects, such as aphids, for their sweet secretions.
In contrast, termites are plant tissue specialists. They feed on cellulose that they obtain from wood, grass, and other plant material.
Ants and termites both live in colonies. However, they have different social structures. While ants are predominantly female, termite colonies consist of male and female individuals. 
Ants castes consist of the following:
- Queens: Queens are reproductive females. They generally carry all the colony’s reproductive burden. Their role is to lay eggs and grow the colony.
- Workers: Workers are generally sterile female ants. Their role help the queen by gathering food and maintaining the nest. In some species, workers can take the form of soldiers. These workers are larger and are specifically tasked to protect the colony.
- Drones: Drones are the only male caste in the colony. Their sole purpose is to mate with virgin queens. They’re sometimes described as single-use flying sperm.
See this article to learn more about ant colony structure.
Termites, on the other hand, have the following castes:
- Reproductives: Reproductive termites, otherwise known as alates, refer to the colony king and queen. These termites are responsible for mating and laying eggs. Unlike ants, male reproductive termites help with colony founding. They remain in the colony and repeatedly mate with the queen.
- Workers: Like ants, termites also have workers. These workers are the most numerous in terms of colony members. They are responsible for foraging, building tunnels, and caring for the young. They consist of both male and female termites.
- Soldiers: Soldiers are termites with enlarged and darkened heads. They have stout mandibles and are tasked with defending the colony. Likewise, soldiers can either be male or female.
Ants and termites go through different stages of development, from egg to adult. Ants undergo complete metamorphosis. Their life cycle consists of 4 stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Their young form (larva) looks different from their mature adult forms.
In contrast, termites undergo incomplete metamorphosis. They go through 3 stages in their life cycle: egg, nymph, and adult. Termite nymphs resemble adults but are generally smaller and lack functional reproductive organs.
Additionally, termites tend to live longer than ants across all castes.
Termites vs Wood-Infesting Ants
Termites are mostly confused with wood-infesting ants like carpenter ants. After all, they both nest in wood. However, the similarities pretty much end there.
Apart from the general differences, termites and wood-infesting ants differ through the following:
- Wood consumption: Unlike termites, ants don’t eat wood. They can’t digest cellulose and only chew on wood for excavation.
- Wood damage: You can tell apart termite and ant infestations based on the damage done to wood. Carpenter ants excavations, for example, result in clean and smooth galleries. In contrast, termite damage is often dirty and muddy.
- Presence of frass: Lastly, ant infestations leave an accumulation of frass. These are wooden fragments and other debris caused by the ant excavations. Termites don’t leave frass, but will instead leave fecal pellets from digested wood.
Read this article to learn more about wood-infesting ants.
What is the Relationship Between Ants and Termites?
Ants are natural predators of termites. They actively hunt them and rely on them for nutrition. For example, Matabele ants hunt termites by conducting raids. They gather thousands of workers to attack termite nests discovered by scouts.
Read this article to learn more about ants eating termites.
Summary: Difference Between Ants and Termites
To summarize, ants and termites have several distinct differences. These include their anatomy, habitat, diet, social, structure, and life cycle.
The most obvious differences come from their anatomy. Ants have bent antennae, narrow waists, and short different-sized wings. In contrast, termites have straight antennae, broad waists, and long uniform-sized wings. Ants are also generally darker than termites which are often translucent.
Even just knowing how different they look will already help you distinguish them.