Why Do We Call Termite White Ants?

Are they ants and are they white? Let’s delve into this question. 

Termites Are More Like Cockroaches Than Ants

The first thing you need to know is that termites are not ants. They’re more closely related to cockroaches than they are ants. This is a bit weird when you consider that cockroaches are solitary creatures. Whereas termites are social creatures that work together to build massive colonies and build termite mounds like this:
termite nest in Queensland

It seems that not only are termites closely related to cockroaches, they in fact evolved from termites. They are a kind of social cockroach in that respect. This following quote is from Live Science.

After conducting the most exhaustive genetic analyses yet into the subject, studying 107 different species of termites, cockroaches and mantises from across the globe, entomologist Paul Eggleton at the Natural History Museum in London and his colleagues now conclude termites are indeed a family of cockroaches.

Live Science

Evolution is a funny thing and we won’t argue with the science. It’s interesting though to think of how a solitary creature evolved to join forces and eat houses. That’s a long a way from where they started.

Termites Are White

Termites are white and look enough like ants to be mistaken for them. I imagine this is where the misnomer comes from.

They largely live and exist underground or inside enclosed termite nests. It’s rare they see the light of day so they have little need to be coloured. This is where the white appearance will come from. 

Below is a video of some termites (white ants) we uncovered. You can see how much they resemble ants as they scurry about. 

Play Video

What About Flying Ants?

Termites can grow wings and fly. I know, disturbing right? During their reproductive cycle they grow wings and look something like this: 

That’s a stock image of a European termite. Sadly we haven’t taken any images of winged termites ourselves. Other images and videos on this page are our own. You get the idea though, termites grow into these winged creatures during their reproductive cycle. 

Flying ants exist also so if you see a flying ant, it’s quite possible it is actually an ant. 

Let's Not Forget The Mastotermes Darwiniensis

I doubt anyone is going to mistake this termite for an ant. Even the biggest bull ant isn’t going to be as large as this thing. Below is a picture Richard took of a Mastotermes Darwiniensis next to a regular termite. 

darwin termite vs normal termite

Mastotermes Darwiniensis usually only exist in the north of Australia. You can read more about them in this article. Richard found some in the yard of a Gold Coast property and was featured on the local news.  

White Ants Is Just A Misnomer For Termites

As you can see now, the term white ants isn’t an accurate description of termites. It’s used because termites are white and look something like ants. Termites are more closely related to cockroaches. But nobody is gonna call them white cockroaches!

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