Why Some Ants Have Wings and Other Questions Answered

Winged ant on a blue surface
Winged ants have narrow waists.

Tzuky333 / Getty Images

Ants with wings are fairly common, especially during certain times of the year. Some indicate a problem; some don't—depending on the species and the season. Learn about the types of ants with wings, their differences, and what you can do about them flying around in your home.

Why Do Some Ants Have Wings and Others Don't?

Carpenter ants and termites (which aren't really ants) that have wings and fly are reproductive males or queens. These are the only members of an ant colony that can reproduce. Ants and termites swarm to mate, then the males die, having fulfilled their life's purpose. The queens drop their wings to seek a nesting site. So if you see something like looks like an ant with wings, it's likely that it is getting ready to add to its population!

I Am Seeing Ants With Wings in My Home. Is This a Problem?

The sudden appearance of swarming ants or termites in flight is not a good sign—it is, in fact, one of the first signs of indoor infestation. This is especially true if it's winter and you have seen more than one—this means that there is a strong likelihood that there is a carpenter ant nest within the structure.

Is It a Problem If I See Flying Ants in My Home in the Summer?

If you see a winged ant or two indoors during the summer, it does not necessarily mean there is a problem. An ant can fly in through an open door or window, but it is likely to die without finding a place to nest. But because the ants are not active outdoors in the winter, a flying ant seen indoors in the winter means that the ants are nesting within the structure—and that is a problem.

Is It a Problem If I See Flying Termites in My Home in the Winter?

Termites don't usually swarm at all in the winter, but they have been known to do so in warm areas of infested buildings—and that is a problem usually requiring that you call a professional.

What Is the Difference Between Ants and Termites?

The main difference between ants and termites are the shapes of their bodies and antennae and wings.

Carpenter ants have:

  • Dark-colored bodies with narrow waists.
  • Elbowed (bent) antennae.
  • Back wings shorter than front wings.

Termites have:

  • Thick bodies with almost indistinguishable waists.
  • Straight antennae.
  • Wings of the same size.
Diagram depicting the differences between ants and termites

 Illustration: Lisa Fasol. © The Spruce, 2019

Are there differences in termite and carpenter ant behavior?

Although both carpenter ants and termites can be very destructive to structures:

  •  Termites eat the wood in which they tunnel. Carpenter ants just nest in the wood, they do not eat it.
  • Another distinguishing factor of carpenter ants is the frass (wood dust, soil, and insect parts) that is often found beneath openings to the nest.
  • Carpenter arts are more likely to be seen out in the open than are termites.
  • Although carpenter ants may be found nesting in dry wood, they are more likely to be found in wood that is wet, damp, and/or rotting.

Fun Fact

Carpenter ants can lift up to seven times their own weight with their teeth.

So How Can I Control Carpenter Ants?

To treat for carpenter ants, you can use insecticidal dust, perimeter spray, or baits:

  • Insecticidal dust. If the carpenter ants are nesting indoors, an insecticide dust can be the best option. A dust that is labeled for carpenters ants and for indoor household use can be injected into the area(s) where the ants are nesting. Small holes may need to be drilled if the area can't be accessed another way.
  • Perimeter Spray. If there are nests outdoors and the ants are coming in, a perimeter treatment – the application of a granular or liquid insecticide to an area about 2- to 4-feet wide all around the perimeter of the home with a product labeled for control of carpenter ants – can provide some control. The application should be made in the spring and fall following all label directions. This won't necessarily get rid of the ants, but it can keep them from coming into your home.
  • Baits. Baits will take longer for full control, but they can be easier and safer to use, and the most effective. The foraging ants will pick up the bait and carry it back to the colony and queen, eventually eliminating the entire colony. Use only products labeled for carpenter ants. Not only is it illegal to use an insecticide on an unlabeled pest, it is unlikely that a bait not labeled for carpenter ants will be attractive to or effective against them.
  • Insecticide sprays. These will not be effective against foraging ants, as the spray will kill only those workers out foraging for food, it will not affect the larger colony. However, if an ant has simply flown indoors during the summer months, a spray labeled for the insect kill these occasional invaders.

When using any insecticide, it is important and required by law to read and follow all label directions. Be sure to the product is labeled for carpenter ants.

How Can I Control Termites?

Because of the skill, equipment, and pesticides needed to eliminate termites, Once termites invade your home, control almost always requires professional treatment. However, there are a number of things you can do for prevention.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Dakhel, Wahid H., et al. Control of Pest Grasshoppers in North AmericaInsects, vol. 11, no. 9, Aug. 2020, p. E566. doi:10.3390/insects11090566