Carpenter ants are one of the most common types of ant found in the United States, but there are many different species that vary in color and size. Red and black carpenter ants are commonly found nesting in wood; their infestation can damage wood. Sometimes these ants can be mistaken for termites; it's important that you identify the insect as an ant first. Then you can identify it as either a red or black ant depending on the color of its body.
Look at the insect that you want to identify. Try and contain it in a certain area if you can. Use a sheet of cardboard to corner it and catch it in a plastic container. This will enable you to have a closer look at its body and check its characteristics.
Check the shape of the insect's body. This is to distinguish it as either a termite or a red or black ant. A termite's body is one long capsule shape with no waist. A red or black ant has a bulbous lower abdomen connected to the head, and a thin, narrow waist.
See if the insect has wings. Some carpenter ants have wings, although not all. If the insect does have wings, confirm whether it is an ant or termite by looking at the wings' shape. To identify a red or black ant, look for two sets of wings. The top set are wide but taper inwards toward the upper half of the ant's body. This set sits directly above a shorter set of wings. A termite also has two sets; however, the wings in the two sets are the same size. Termites' wings are also long and narrow.
Recognize whether the antennae are straight or bent. A termite has short straight antennae, whereas red and black ants have two thicker antennae which are a bent "L" shape. The antennae protrude from the head of the insect, with one positioned on each side.
Decide that the insect is either a termite or black or red ant using the facts you gained from steps 1 through 4. If you determine that it is an ant, move on to the next step.
Get in close to the ant and look at the color of its body. The size of the ant depends on whether it is a queen, worker or winged male. However, in any case, it will have the same shape body and characteristics identified in the previous step. The next step is to check what color it is.
Confirm what color it is. View the ant in broad daylight for a good look. The ant may be jet-black, reddish-brown, red, yellow, orange or red and black. Focus your attention on the large bulbous shape of its lower body to get the best identification of its color.
Make a comparison against a picture of a red or black ant if you are having difficultly deciding what color it is. If it is not clearly red or black, then it is a combination of the two -- this is also common.