Common Bugs That Look Like Termites

Termites are among the most dreaded of all household pests, thanks to the massive damage they can cause to wooden structures. Catching them early is the only way to avoid a hefty repair bill so, for those living in termite-prone areas, learning to accurately identify them is crucial.

However, there are several other bugs that look like termites, such as carpenter ants, powderpost beetles, and carpenter bees.

What are termites?

Termites are a type of wood-eating insect that often infest houses and other structures. Their wood-boring habits can lead to serious damage; in fact, termites are thought to cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage every year in the US alone. Although they primarily feed on wood, termites may also cause damage to paper, books, and insulation.

Termites will often ‘swarm’ when infesting homes, which is when winged termites leave their colonies in search of new nesting grounds. This most commonly happens in springtime, as the behavior is triggered by rising temperatures and increased rainfall.

If you see flying termites in your home, this is a sure sign of infestation and must be addressed immediately. Unfortunately, termites aren’t the only wood-destroying insects to be on the alert for. There are several other types of flying bugs that look like termites, and all can cause damage to buildings if left untreated.

What bugs look like termites?

1. Carpenter ants


What are they?

Carpenter ants are large, black-ish ants that look like termites, especially those with wings.

A swarm of winged carpenter ants inside your house is a sure sign of infestation and must be addressed immediately.

Like termites, carpenter ants can cause extensive damage to wooden structures by hollowing them out for their nests. But how can you tell them apart from termites?

How can you tell a carpenter ant from a termite?

  • Size
    Carpenter ants are much larger than termites and can measure up to ½ an inch in length.
  • Wing number
    If you see flying bugs that look like termites, they may actually be swarming ants. Take a closer look at the wings to make sure. Termites have two sets of wings that are all of equal length. Carpenter ants also have two sets of wings, but one set is much smaller than the other.
  • Body shape
    Carpenter ants have segmented bodies and narrow waists. Termites also have segmented bodies, but they are not as distinct as those of carpenter ants.
  • Damage
    As carpenter ants burrow into wood, they produce a coarse, sawdust-like material. Wood that has been damaged by termites, however, will often be covered with a mud-like material or mud tunnels.

2. Powderpost beetles

Len Worthington/Wikimedia Commons

What are they?

Powderpost beetles can also cause extensive damage to wood. The wood-eating larvae burrow their way into wooden structures, reducing them to a fine, flour-like powder.

The term ‘powderpost beetle’ actually describes several species of small, wood-boring insects. Like drywood termites, they leave tell-tale holes in the wood they infest, which may make accurate identification tricky.

Fortunately, there are plenty of physical differences between powderpost beetles and termites to help you tell them apart.

How can you tell a powderpost beetle from a termite?

  • Wing appearance
    Powderpost beetles and termites both have wings, but they look very different! Like termites, powderpost beetles have two pairs of wings and are strong fliers. However, unlike termites, their wings are hidden beneath wing covers.
  • Head shape
    The heads of powderpost beetles are covered by a structure called a protonum. This makes them appear bigger and boxier than the small, rounded heads of termites.
  • Body shape
    Powderpost beetles and termites also have different body shapes. Whereas termites have visibly segmented bodies, powderpost beetles have a more cylindrical, elongated shape.
  • Damage
    Although both drywood termites and powderpost beetles create holes in wood, the damage will look different. Powderpost beetles produce characteristic, powder-like sawdust, whereas drywood termites will often plug the holes they make with a mud-like material.

3. Carpenter bees


What are they?

Carpenter bees are another type of wood-boring bug to be on the lookout for. They burrow into wooden structures to lay their eggs, creating round holes and little piles of coarse sawdust.

These bees can cause aesthetic and structural damage to homes but aren’t as serious a problem as termites.

As flying, wood-boring insects, carpenter bees may be mistaken for termites. However, there are lots of ways to tell the difference.

How can you tell a carpenter bee from a termite?

  • Colour
    Termites can vary in color but are usually beige, tan, or brown. Carpenter bees, on the other hand, have black abdomens and an orange or brown thorax.
  • Fuzz
    Bees have fuzz; termites don’t. The abdomen of the carpenter bee is smooth, shiny, and hairless, but they have a patch of orange-brown fuzz covering their abdomens.
  • Body shape
    Carpenter bees and termites both have segmented bodies, but bees are much more rounded in shape.

4. Flying/Winged ants

Flying ant image

Flying ants are probably one of the most common insects mistaken with termites. They are just regular ants…but with wings.

Since termites also have the phase where they grow wings to leave the existing colony and fly away to reproduce – flying ants can be confused with termites. 

Finding winged insects is not possible for the whole year. Therefore, it is a sign of a mating season if you see one.

How can you tell a flying ant from a termite?

  • Antennae
    Termites’ antennae are beaded. They look like straight antennae that may get a bit rounded. Ant’s antennae get bent during the flight and get corners.
  • Wing number
    Both termites and flying ants have one pair of wings. However, termites have noticeably larger wings while ant wings are smaller. Termite wings are around twice as long as their body length. 
  • Body shape
    Flying ants’ bodies are distinctly segmented into two parts, while winged termites’ entire body is a single shape and does not have visible division. 

Did you know? Queen ants bite their wings off after mating and crawl around, searching for a new nesting place.

For more information, you can read our detailed guide on winged ants vs. termites.


Termites are bad enough, but there are several other termite-looking bugs to watch out for. Insects that look like termites include carpenter ants, powderpost beetles, and carpenter bees, all of which can cause significant damage to wooden structures.

Learning how to identify these insects is key for their control, as infestations need to be dealt with quickly to avoid serious damage to your home. If you see any kind of flying bugs congregating on your property, get in for a closer look and, once you know what you’re dealing with, call a pest control professional for help.

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