Although there are many species of carpenter ants around the U.S., all of these ants make their nests in wood and can cause damage to homes, garages, sheds and other wood-framed structures.
The carpenter ant is one of the largest ant species in the U.S., but seeing a large ant does not necessarily mean you have carpenter ants -- and seeing only small ants doesn't mean you don't! This is because the different "castes" (workers, soldiers, queen, etc.) and sexes can be very different in size.
- Workers are only about 1/4 to 5/8 inches in length and are the most commonly seen.
- Male carpenter ants are about the same size as the workers, but they are generally only seen when they fly from the nest to mate with the queen -- That is their only purpose in life!
- The queen is the largest of the species, and may be two or three times larger than the workers.
Carpenter Ant Facts
- are one of most common species of ants in the U.S.
- vary in color as in size, but they are generally reddish orange to black.
- do not eat the wood in which they nest, but chew into it with their very large mandibles to create galleries and connecting tunnels. (Termites, on the other hand, do eat the wood in which they nest.)
- nest outdoors in dead and decaying wood, such as hollow and rotting trees, old stumps, and even firewood.
- also nest in homes and buildings, in enclosed areas where the wood is damp, wet or otherwise decayed. If infestations grow, the carpenter ant colony may expand into sound wood, and they have also been found in foam insulation.
- usually have more than one nesting site, including a parent and satellite colonies.
- damage structures through the excavation of their extensive galleries and tunnels and nesting in areas such as wall voids, hollow doors, and insulation.
- feed on proteins and sugars, such as honeydew produced by aphids, meats, and sweets such as syrup, honey, and jelly.
- may forage in the home for food, but this will occur primarily at night in the spring and summer.
- can't sting, but carpenter ants can inflict painful bites with their powerful jaws, and they will spray formic acid into the wound, causing a burning sensation. (Source: University of California)
How to know if you have an infestation
You may have an infestation:
- if you have seen the ants in your home or building during the late fall, winter, or early spring. However, one or two in the spring or summer does not necessarily mean that you a problem.
- if you are seeing flying ants emerging from your home in the spring time. (Note: these may also be termites. See How to Tell the Difference)
- if you have wet or spongy wood, particularly around leaky pipes, drains, walls or roofing, and you are seeing ants or evidence of their presence in the area.
Carpenter Ant Control
You can control carpenter ants with chemical or bait treatments (See Control Carpenter Ants for more information), but the most effective and lasting form of control is replacing any wet and damaged wood in which the carpenter ants are nesting and repair of conditions causing the damage - such as roofing or plumbing leaks or other moisture issues.
Then to help prevent future infestation, eliminate any direct contact of soil, plants, or mulch with the structure. For example, trim trees and shrubs away from the home or building, keep any wood from contacting soil, seal cracks and openings in the found, and store firewood well away from the home.
If the infestation seems to be extensive, or you are having difficulty finding or exterminating the ants - or you just don't want to do it yourself, contact a professional, keeping in mind the Top 12 Considerations in Hiring a Pest Control Professional.