Is an ant just a white termite?
When I first began studying Japanese I remember arguing with a classmate about whether termites are ants (specifically white ants). This was 2000, long before we had the power to whip out an iPad and fire up Wikipedia.
I was right (of course!) but that Wikipedia article confirms that in Australia they are really called “white ants”
In Japan too:
ants = ari 蟻 or アリ – in katakana
termites = shiro ari シロアリ – white ant
Shiroi is the Japanese word for white. Since shiroi, or 白い is in adjectival form, before a noun we take away the i, or い , so that we have “shiroari”, 白アリ or termite instead of shiroi ari. (In the case above, the word for termite is written in all Katakana, which implies that the Japanese think that termites aren’t of Japanese origin.
However, they still call them white ants because of the shiro part, they just don’t use the kanji part for white, 白い.)