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Carpenter Ants: What Homeowners Need to Know about these Pests

Carpenter Ants: What Homeowners Need to Know about these Pests

Posted By: Daniel Mackie
Category: Tips

Ants are social insects that are commonly found in homes and gardens. While these tiny crawling creatures may seem harmless, there is a particular species of ant that causes costly property damage. Carpenter ants can do significant cosmetic or even structural damage by excavating galleries in wood to build their nests. Although their mandibles can remove quantities of wood, they do not necessarily consume it, unlike termites.

In this post, you will learn various facts about carpenter ants — how to identify them, why they are considered house pests, what warning signs to look for, and how to effectively prevent potential infestation.

How to Identify Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants have evenly-round head and arched thorax

Carpenter ants are large-sized ant species that belongs to the genus Camponotus. They can come in various colours: black, red, yellow, brown, tan, or combinations of these colours, depending on their species. Carpenter ants have an evenly-rounded head and arch-shaped thorax, connected by a single node. They can grow up to 0.5-inch long, although their sizes can vary according to the subspecies.

The eight different types of carpenter ants include:

GreenLeaf Pest Control: 8 Different Types of Carpenter Ants

  • Camponotus pennsylvanicus – black carpenter ant
  • Camponotus castaneus
  • Camponotus chromaiodes – red carpenter ant
  • Camponotus noveboracensis
  • Camponotus americanus
  • Camponotus nearcticus
  • Camponotus subbarbatus
  • Camponotus herculeanus

Carpenter ant colonies have different sizes of workers — minor, intermediate, and major (from smallest to largest, respectively). Minor workers are about 0.25-inch while the major worker can grow up to 0.5-inch long. Queens are slightly larger in size than major workers, with a smaller head and a larger abdomen.

Why are They Considered a Pest?

As the name suggests, carpenter ants like wood. Once they have entered a home, they will tunnel into exposed wood, usually into wall cavities and ceilings, and then construct a nest inside the timber there. This can cause cosmetic damage, or even create structural hazards if left unaddressed for too long.

Carpenter ant damage is distinctive to that of termite damage. While termites consistently follow the wood grain, ants create tunnels across the wood grain. Ant tunnels are usually clean and not covered in mud, unlike termite tunnels. Lastly, since they rarely eat the wood, you will notice piles of sawdust-like material, called frass, near an ant nest.

Facts about Carpenter Ant Colonies

A mature carpenter ant colony produces winged ants or swarmers

  • There are two types of carpenter ant nests: the parent colony and the satellite colony. The parent colony is usually found outside, in moist, decayed wood such as rotten tree trunks and roots. Parent colonies require higher humidity to shelter the eggs.
  • Satellite nests are built in areas with less moisture and are composed mostly of workers. Since satellite colonies do not contain eggs, they can be in dyer locations, like inside hollow doors, attic insulation, or wall voids.
  • There are as many 3000 workers in a single carpenter ant colony. Worker carpenter ants collect and store food (plant and animal materials), excavate tunnels and galleries to expand the nesting area, and tend the eggs, larvae, and pupae. Unlike other types of ants, the queen does not lay eggs. This is the duty of the female workers in the colony.
  • It takes about 3.5 to 4 years for a black carpenter ant colony to mature and produce swarmers. Swarming usually takes place from March to July. The male alate dies after fertilizing the female. The newly fertilized female finds moist, decaying wood, lays eggs in a small cavity, and starts a new colony.

What Signs to Watch For

Carpenter ants can get inside your home via cracks or holes in your external wall, or through wet or damaged wood. While they are known for tunnelling in wooden steps or window sills, carpenter ants also nest in hollow spaces, such as wall cavities, hollow doors, and attic spaces, without causing structural damage.

Here are some signs to watch out for if you suspect a carpenter ant colony inside or outside your house:

  • A distinct (sometimes loud) dry rustling sound caused by their chewing activity
  • Wood shavings (similar to sawdust) beneath baseboards, window sills, and door jams
  • Winged ants emerging from the walls, ceilings, and other hidden crevices, or shed ant wings near baseboards, vents, and window sills

Winged ants emerge when the carpenter ant colony becomes mature. If you start seeing winged ants on the window panes inside your home, then it is likely that there is a mature colony in your walls, and that this colony is about to produce more colonies.

Protect your house from the extensive damage caused by swarmers

How to Prevent an Infestation

There are a few simple steps a homeowner can take to discourage carpenter ants from moving into your home. Externally, you can seal all visible wall cracks with caulk, and install door sweeps on entry doors and proper screening on windows. Trim trees and hedges away from the house, fix any leaks and adjust the grading around the house to prevent standing water against the walls of your home. If you have a fireplace or fire pit, store firewood away from the home, and elevate the bottom level to allow it to air-dry.

Carpenter ant tunnels and galleries weaken the structure of wood, causing extensive damage. While some insects abandon their nest seasonally, carpenter ants will remain for years as long as they retain favourable conditions. They will continue to expand their nest by adding more galleries and sub-galleries as the colony grows and matures. The only way to be rid of carpenter ants, once they establish a colony inside your home, is through professional pest control.

If you noticed any of these signs, it is time to take preventive measures to stop the early stage of damage. While some may say that home maintenance is key to preventing potential pest infestation, it may be difficult to control the problem once the carpenter ants start to build and expand their nest. Seeking professional pest control is the most effective way to stop the problem and protect the structural integrity of your home.

GreenLeaf Pest Control Inc. provides long-term solutions to a wide range of ant infestation problems in residential and commercial properties. We use environmentally-safe pest control services to ensure a healthy planet for the next generation. If you are looking for ant control specialists in Toronto, call us at (416) 998-9473.

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