This article goes over how to spot carpenter ant damage. 

The 1954 film Them! is considered a classic in the science-fiction genre — a masterpiece that was one of the very first films to use "big bugs" as the antagonists.  In the movie, carpenter ants in the New Mexico desert are exposed to radiation and mutate into giant terrors that begin to wander the country in order to make new nests. 

Of course, it is easy to dismiss this as just silly Hollywood drivel, and in many ways it is. However, as is generally the case, the film did evolve from some kernels of truth. The reality is that carpenter ants' quests to establish nests can turn out to be very problematic for humans, especially our homes. Luckily, we are here to provide some answers and some solutions.

Evidence of Carpenter Ants

Image via Flickr by treegrow

On the surface, it may seem obvious that if you see ants in your home or business, then you can assume they are building nests somewhere within. However, this assumption does not always hold true. Sometimes ants can be seen in a building even when they have not created a nest there.  Carpenter ants are known to search for food far away from their nests, and they can enter a building through attic vents, foundations, holes for pipes or wires, and cracks around windows or doors. They can also burrow through wood — especially wood that is damaged.     

On the other hand, carpenter ant colonies often reside in a building for many years completely unbeknownst to the human occupants. The ants may simply search for food outside the building and may be using an entrance/exit path that is not very visible to humans.

Signs of Carpenter Ant Infestation

Since looking for ants in your home is not always a clear way of knowing if there is a nest, here are a few other tips for finding an ant nest:

  • Look in common nesting grounds. Carpenter ants vastly prefer areas with moist or rotten wood, such as a baseboard, a windowsill, wood near a chimney, or under a sink. They prefer this wood for their nests both because they require consistent temperature and humidity and because this wood is much easier for the ants to burrow through. A few other places that may provide ideal conditions for the insect are hollow doors, wall voids, and foam panels.  
  • Look for little piles of wood shavings/sawdust. Unlike termites, ants don't actually eat wood; they are simply moving it to make a pathway. Therefore, they often leave behind this telltale evidence.
  • Put your ear to the walls. Sure, it sounds weird, and you might even look bizarre doing it. However, it can be really hard to see a carpenter ant nest. Listening for rustling sounds can be a good way to find out if ants are making a home within your walls.
  • Tap your walls. Again, this may seem strange, but experts strongly recommend this method if you suspect you may have a carpenter ant infestation. Tapping the walls will help you find out if you have any hollow/damaged spots, which is pretty strong evidence of carpenter ants. Oftentimes, tapping the wall even gets the ants to scurry out, which will only confirm your suspicions.

What to Do If You Find or Suspect a Carpenter Ant Nest

As you can probably imagine, carpenter ants can cause a pretty severe amount of damage to a home. As burrow within the walls of your home, they compromise the integrity of the wood, which can lead to costly repairs. The number and size of the carpenter ant nests will determine how significant the damage is and how quickly it spreads. 

If the ants begin to enter the building, they may also bite humans. Since carpenter ants are large, their bites can break the skin. The insect may also spray a chemical that irritates the skin and adds to the pain of the bite. 

For these reasons, you want to get rid of carpenter ant nests as soon as possible.  Since these infestations are challenging to eradicate, if you suspect one in your home or business, you should call a pest control professional.

Since carpenter ant nests can be hard to find, it may be wise to have your home checked out by a professional even if you are not sure whether or not you have a problem. Many companies will do a free home/business checkup, and some offer online quizzes to let you know your level of risk.

Tips to Prevent Carpenter Ants In Your Home

You can take several relatively easy steps to help ensure that carpenter ants make their nest outside of your home or business rather than within its walls. For instance:

  • Store any firewood or lumber away from your house.

  • Trim bushes and trees so that they are not touching the building and thus creating a perfect walkway right into your home/business. 

  • Ensure there is no standing water in your home and quickly fix any leaks. 

  • Block areas where ants like to enter. Seal any cracks, install door sweeps, and ensure windows are screened and properly installed.

  • Take away potential food sources by cleaning crumbs from counters, tables, and floors regularly. Also, be sure to store food in airtight containers.

Carpenter ants may seem relatively harmless because they are so common and because they are such fascinating and intelligent creatures. However, they are capable of producing significant damage to your home or business. Do what you can to prevent ants from entering your home in the first place, and if you do discover a nest, contact a pest control specialist as soon as possible. Otherwise, your terror upon seeing your home repair bill could be even greater than what you might experience if you happen to come across any of those irradiated ants from the sci-fi movies.


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