Collectively, ants outnumber all other species on Earth, yet they do more good than harm. Ants are nature's cleaning crew as they contribute to the process of decomposition by feeding on organic waste, dead animals, and other insects. They also work to aerate the ground and till the soil, fertilizing and creating fertile topsoil. When in their natural habitat the work they do is of the utmost importance but its when they invade your property, garden, or home that they become a pest that needs to be controlled.

What Are Carpenter Ants?

Image via Flickr by treegrow

Some of the largest ants located in the United States are carpenter ants. As their name suggests, they make their nests in wood. This can be in a healthy tree, a rotting tree trunk that has fallen, or even in the wood of your home. They have powerful mandibles that they use to tear apart the wood to build their elaborate nests.

Carpenter ants create colonies that can contain up to 50,000 individuals. Most colonies have a single wingless queen. A mature colony that is over two years old will produce swarmer ants that have wings and are released to form new colonies. These swarmer ants will appear between May and June in the eastern United States and between February and June in the west.

Carpenter ants will typically forage for food and water within a 300-foot radius from their nest. In their natural environment, they feed on plant and fruit juices, insect honeydew, insects, and other arthropods. When they are foraging in your home, they will feed on grease, meats, sweets, eggs, and cakes. Once carpenter ants create a nest in your home, they can wreak havoc and are very difficult to eliminate.

What Do Carpenter Ants Look Like?

In the United States, carpenter ants are in the heavyweight class. They are large and aggressive, and devastation follows them when they take up residence in your home. They can grow to be up to half an inch in length. Their coloration varies depending on the carpenter ant species and can be light brown, dark brown, red, jet-black, yellow, red and black, yellowish tan, black, or orange. Their worker ants have large and strong mandibles used for tunneling in wood.

Identifiers that are unique to carpenter ants are their rounded thorax, a circle of hairs around their anus, and a heart-shaped head. Swarmer carpenter ants have wings and are released by a mature colony to go start new colonies. More often than not, carpenter ants can be identified by their destructive tendencies when it comes to wood.

Where Do Carpenter Ants Live?

Carpenter ants are scattered throughout the United States. They are very resourceful and will nest in numerous wood sources like rotting fence posts, tree stumps, old firewood, inside the wood of a home, etc. Any type of wood — from trees to manmade structures — is subject to being infested by carpenter ants, and once they have invaded, they are tough to eradicate. Carpenter ant nests come in two forms: the parent colonies and the satellite colonies. The parent nest houses the queen, the workers, and their young. The satellite nests consist of mature larvae, pupae, and workers.

Carpenter ants will target a home that has water-damaged wood and will enter the house through this access point. They will tunnel into the center of the wood and destroy it from the inside out. If carpenter ants manage to stay under your radar, they can make your home structurally unsound and do significant cosmetic damage. Because carpenter ants can pose such a great threat to your home and your family, enlisting a professional pest control agency to deal with them is best in most cases.

Food sources in your home that will attract carpenter ants are grease, meats, sweets, eggs, and cakes. You should always be sure that your house is clean from food and other debris on the floors, counters, and tables. Potential food sources for ants should be put away and protected to prevent bacterial contamination.

Can Carpenter Ants Destroy Your Home?

Carpenter ants can and will destroy your home from the inside out. They will usually enter your house through damp or water-damaged wood, so you must keep your house in good repair. Fortunately, signs of an infestation are pretty straightforward as long as you know what to look for and what to listen for.

One visible sign is the waste material carpenter ants create, which consists of sawdust-like material mixed with the body parts of dead ants, called frass. Another thing to look for will be the unsightly cosmetic damage that will eventually present itself. Cosmetic damage usually comes later in the process and indicates that the ants have already established a thriving nest.

The other way you can detect these pests in your home is by the sound of them rustling around as they continue to tunnel and increase the size of their nests. Though they don't present an immediate threat to humans, they will bite if disturbed. Carpenter ant bites are very painful due to the ants' large mandibles and can even break the skin. Carpenter ants also inject formic acid into the bite, which makes the wound feel like it's burning, but these bites are not dangerous. The main threat these ants pose is the destruction of your house.

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants

Getting rid of carpenter ants can be a difficult task. Do-it-yourself methods you can try include the following:

  • The toxic bait method.
  • Direct dusting:
    • Diatomaceous earth is a nontoxic dust that kills carpenter ants.
    • Chemical-laced dust can also be used but contains toxins.
  • Boric acid bait.

You can also take preventative measures to prevent carpenter ant infestations:

  • Cleaning your house.
  • Sealing off cracks.
  • Repairing any water leaks.
  • Putting away food sources.
  • Removing natural debris near the outside of your home that could harbor ants.

Carpenter ants play a significant role in the decomposition of rotting wood, helping to clean fallen debris from the ground. They're also a vital food source for different types of animals. However, with the positives come negatives, and if you have ever experienced a carpenter ant infestation, you know what those negatives are. It is always worth the time it takes to implement preventative measures to deter these pests from invading your home.

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