What is a carpenter ant?
Carpenter ants get their name from their nest building, where they will excavate the wood and form smooth tunnels inside of the wood. Carpenter ants do not eat wood, they only tunnel and chew through wood to create nests.
The western black carpenter ant colony, when mature, contains about 10-20,000 workers, with large colonies of more than 50,000 individuals. There is usually only one functional, wingless queen per colony. Swarmers are not produced until the colony is more than two years old. They are produced in the previous year and held over the winter in the nest for release the following year. Swarmers appear from May until August.
How to Identify Carpenter Ants
What do carpenter ants look like?
Carpenter ants vary in size and can be anywhere from ½” to ⅝” long. While black carpenter ants are common, these pests may be a combination of black and red, or completely black, red or brown.
The only external sign of a carpenter ant infestation other than the presence of workers and/or swarmers is the appearance of small openings on the surface of wood. Through these, the ants expel debris, which consists of sawdust-like shavings and/or fragments of insulation and insect body parts. The accumulation of this debris below the holes is a good indication of an active infestation. The gallery walls that carpenter ants create are smooth, with a sand-papered appearance. Active galleries are kept clean of debris. Carpenter ants prefer to attack wood softened by fungus and are often associated with moisture problems, so homeowners should keep an eye out for excess moisture and soft, rotting wood around the home.
How do you get rid of carpenter ants?
Carpenter ants require a water source to survive. To prevent brown, red or black carpenter ants in the house, eliminate sources of moisture or standing water. Keep tree branches and other plants cut back from the house. Sometimes pests use these branches to get into your home. Make sure that there are no cracks or little openings around the bottom of doors or around windows. Seal all openings with a silicone-based caulk. Also, keep firewood and building materials stored away from the home. Carpenter ants like to build nests in stacks of wood.
Most species of carpenter ants attack wood that is currently or has previously been wet and damaged by mold. Even though carpenter ants first invade wet, decayed wood, they may later begin excavating tunnels through dry, undamaged wood. They usually come into buildings through cracks around doors, windows, or through plumbing and electrical penetrations in the home. They will also crawl along overhead wires, shrubs, or tree limbs outdoors that touch the building above ground, then enter the home through any small opening.
Carpenter ants build their nests outdoors in various wood sources, including tree stumps, rotting fence posts, old firewood, under stones, etc. The parent colony, or main colony, is typically located outside and contains the queen, eggs and young. Satellite nests can occur and branch out from the main parent colony and they only contain workers, mature larvae and pupae. Satellite nests are formed in mid-summer both indoors and outdoors and do not form until the parent colony matures over several years. Usually around August, the workers and winged ants will emerge from the pupae.
Carpenter ants will begin mating flights in a process called swarming. Winged males are typically the first to emerge when environmental conditions like temperature and extended daylight signify that it’s time to swarm. If conditions are right, the male releases a pheromone that stimulates the female to leave her nest. The first appearance of winged males in a home often causes homeowners great concern, as it signifies that ants are living inside the house. Otherwise, the presence of a carpenter ant nest indoors is sometimes indicated by a rustling sound that will come from wall voids or from wood where the nest is located when the winged forms are disturbed.
Carpenter ants feed primarily on insect honeydew, plant and fruit juices, insects and other arthropods. Inside, they will also feed on sweets, eggs, meats, cakes and grease. The workers will forage up to 300 feet from their nest. Although some workers are active during the day, most activity occurs from shortly before dusk until dawn.
Carpenter ants build their nests outdoors in various wood sources, including tree stumps, firewood or landscaping. They need a constant water source to survive. Carpenter ants will enter the house through wet, damaged wood.
Threats to Structures
Carpenter ants do not eat wood but damage wood through their nest building. If they gain entry to a structure, they can pose a significant property threat.
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