Three Bugs That Look Like Ants

Ants are a typical summer best and, though definitely annoying, are usually pretty harmless. However, there are plenty of other bugs that look and even act like ants, and some of them (like termites) can be a major problem for homeowners.

So, what are the most common wasps, flying bugs, and beetles that look like ants, and how can you identify them?



What are they?

Like ants, termites are a type of insect and, as such, have six legs and antennae. The most important difference between the two is that an ant infestation is unlikely to cause lasting problems, whereas termites can cause massive structural damage to your home.

Why are they mistaken for ants?

Termites are most commonly mistaken for ants when they’re in swarm mode.

Though ants and termites are typically terrestrial, both will occasionally sprout wings and take to the skies. Ants usually do this once a year as part of their mating process, and termites do the same to reproduce and expand their colonies.

If you’re seeing a large number of insects that look like ants with wings, it’s vital that you identify them ASAP. If they turn out to be termites, you’ll need to call in professional help immediately to avoid having to deal with expensive repairs later.

How can you tell them apart?

Bugs that look like flying ants could be just that – or, they could be something significantly worse. To tell ants from termites, you’ll have to capture one for a close-up look. At first glance, the two look pretty similar; both have six legs, two antennae, and four wings. Once you get out the magnifying glass, however, you’ll see that:

  • Ant’s legs are longer than termite’s legs.
  • The body segments of the ant are far more defined than those of the termite. Whereas ant’s bodies are clearly divided into three separate parts (the head, thorax, and abdomen) the body of the termite is straight-sided.
  • The antennae are different. Termite antennae are pretty straight, whereas ant antennae are longer and ‘elbowed.’

Rove beetles


What are they?

Rove beetles are a type of insect that has evolved to look like ants, for very sneaky reasons! These clever look-a-likes use their disguises to infiltrate ant colonies where, once inside, they attack and eat its members. These ingenious assassins not only look like ants, but they smell and act like them, too! So, if they can even fool the other ants, how can you learn to tell them apart?

Why are they mistaken for ants?

Rove beetles look so much like ants that even other ants can’t tell the difference. These insects have six legs, two antennae, and even a nipped-in abdomen that mimics the segmented body shape of the ant. They may also be the same color as ants.

How can you tell them apart?

Rove beetles have evolved to look and act almost identically to ants; however, there are a few key differences that can help you tell them apart.

  • Rove beetles have smaller heads than ants.
  • Their bodies are less heavily segmented. Although rove beetles have evolved to mimic the segmented shape of the ant, their bodies are still not quite the same as those of ants. If you looked closely, you’d see that the rove beetle’s body is not as clearly divided into head, thorax, and abdominal sections as the ant’s body is.
  • Look for the odd ones out. Try as they might, the rove beetle cannot exactly mimic the appearance of the ants whose colonies they infiltrate. If you look closely, you may spot an ‘ant’ that is smaller in size, a different color, or with differently shaped antennae than those around it. And, if you do, it’s probably a rove beetle!

It’s important to note that not all rove beetles look like ants, but ALL rove beetles SHOULD BE AVOIDED.

Though they don’t bite or sting, these insects do contain a powerful toxin called pederin. When released, this toxin can cause severe eye and skin irritation including conjunctivitis (pinkeye), burning sensations, and blistering that can last several days. The toxin is released when the bug is crushed so, if you see a rove beetle, avoid the urge to swat, squash, or otherwise touch it.

Velvet ants

Melissa McMasters/Wikimedia Commons

What are they?

Velvet ants are a lot like giant ant-looking bugs, but they’re not what they seem! These odd insects are, in fact, a type of wasp.

The females are wingless, but they can still deliver an excruciatingly painful sting, so it’s a good idea to know what they look like.

Why are they mistaken for ants?

Velvet ants get their name from their appearance, as these insects are actually a type of wasp. The females are wingless and look like large, furry ants with six legs, antennae, and segmented bodies.

How can you tell them apart?

Velvet ants look a lot like big, red ants but, once you know the difference, it’s pretty easy to tell them apart.

  • Velvet ants are brightly colored. Most ants are black or brown in color, but velvet ants are brightly colored in shades of red and black or yellow and brown.
  • Velvet ants are furry. As their name suggests, velvet ants are covered in fuzz, which sets them apart from most ant species.
  • Their antennae are different. Velvet ants have straight antennae, whereas ant antennae are ‘elbowed.’
  • They have a slightly different body shape. Velvet ants do have segmented bodies, but less dramatically so than true ants.

Velvet ants are not usually aggressive but can deliver an extremely painful sting if handled or stepped on with bare feet. Their sting is said to be so painful that it could kill a cow, which has earned these wasps the popular nickname ‘cow killer.’


If you see little black bugs that look like ants, bugs that look like ants with wings, or any other kind of ant-looking bug around your home, get in for a closer look! What you first took to be a simple ant may, in fact, be something far more sinister. Termites, for instance, can look a lot like ants with wings when they’re swarming and searching for a new home but will chew through the structural beams of your house and cause enormous damage.

If you think you’re dealing with ants, always take a second look – it could save you a lot of financial trouble in the future!

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