Carpenter Ants: Facts, Identification & Control
Carpenter ants are among the largest ants in the United States, ranging from 3.4 to 13 mm long. The most common color is black, but some species have reddish or yellowish coloration. Workers have large mandibles.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Carpenter ants reside both outdoors and indoors in moist, decaying or hollow wood. They cut galleries into the wood grain to form their nests and provide passageways for movement from section to section of the nest. This activity produces wood shavings mixed with parts of dead ants which provides clues to nesting locations.
Carpenter ants do not eat wood, but they will feed on a variety of food people eat—particularly sweets and meats. They will also feed on other insects.
Queen lays 9 to 16 eggs the first year and may live up to 25 years. Eggs complete their life cycle in about 6 to 12 weeks.
Signs of a Carpenter Ant Infestation
Carpenter ant workers and swarmers (winged ants) are the most likely sign homeowners observe. The workers may be observed foraging for food. Swarmers usually are produced when a colony matures and is ready to form new colonies. These winged individuals often indicate a well-established colony. An additional sign of carpenter ant activity is the debris they produce from tunneling in the wood. Rough wood shavings mixed with parts of dead ants from the colony indicate carpenter ant nesting activity. A final sign may be the “rustling” sound sometimes heard as the ants go about their activity in the home’s wood.
Ants of the genus Camponotus are known as carpenter ants because they prefer to establish their colonies in galleries excavated from damp or damaged wood. Carpenter ants do not eat wood as termites do, but instead remove wood and deposit the debris outside of their nests in small piles.
Carpenter ants clean their nesting sites, and their galleries are not lined with mud or moist soil as termite galleries typically are. Carpenter ant workers keep their galleries as smooth as sandpapered wood.
Carpenter ants vary in size, ranging from 3.4 to 13 mm in length. One carpenter ant colony can contain different sizes of ants, depending on caste and responsibility. The color of carpenter ants also varies among species, ranging from jet-black to dark brown, red, black, yellow, orange, yellowish tan or light brown. They are most commonly black, but some carpenter ants exhibit both red and black coloration. They are common in many parts of the world.
Identification of carpenter ant species can be made only through careful observation of specific physical characteristics.
In natural environments, carpenter ants dwell in both dead and living trees, stumps and rotting logs. However, they may also establish their nests inside of homes and buildings where wood is found. Carpenter ants prefer to establish nests in areas where wood has been exposed to severe moisture.
Carpenter ants build two types of nests: parent colonies and satellite colonies. Parent colonies consist of a queen, her brood and workers. Satellite colonies consist of workers, older larvae and pupae. Workers create satellite colonies when the parent colony lacks sufficient space or when there is a suitable supply of food or water. There may be several satellite colonies associated with a parent colony.
Carpenter Ant Treatment
In controlling an infestation of carpenter ants, it is necessary to first find the nest. Once found, it can be removed or treated chemically. All moisture conditions that the ants found conducive must be corrected.
If treated early, carpenter ants are seldom responsible for serious structural damage to houses and buildings. However, these ants could cause extreme damage if they continue undiscovered for an extended period. Thus, it is best to contact a pest control professional in the event of an infestation. It is advisable to seek professional help in containing carpenter ant infestations, as incorrect procedures may allow the colony to rebound when surviving members resume their burrowing and foraging.