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Ants – An Overview of the Carpenter Ant

History

Carpenter ants are relatively large (queens reach 0.75 inch long; workers, 0.25 - 0.5 inch long) and may be red, brown or black in coloring. They are found around old or dead wood in which they use their chewing mouth parts to create a series of tunnels, called galleries, to make nests. Natural setting habitats include live and dead trees, rotting logs, and stumps. Manmade habitats include telephone poles, houses and other man-made wooden structures. They may make large numbers of tunnels in a home and surrounding soil before they are ever noticed and causing extensive damage to home and property. They are commonly found in porches, window sills and roofs. Carpenter ants are credited with doing millions of dollars in damage to structures in Canada each year. The wood is used as a nesting site only. Unlike termites, they do not eat the wood. Their diet consists of dead and live insects, fruit juice, aphid honeydew, and water and food scraps in homes.


Carpenter Ant Biology

  • Carpenter ants range in size from about 3/8 of an inch to slightly more than an inch in length.
  • The queen is the center of a colony, and her primary job is to produce eggs. Queen ants also secrete pheromones that regulate the behavior (and possibly even the biology) of the other members of the colony.
  • The great majority of members of a carpenter ant colony are workers, whose duties include gathering food, excavating galleries, feeding and tending the reproductive and the young, and defending the colony. The workers are genetic females, although they are wingless and do not reproduce.
  • Mature colonies also produce winged reproductive, who leave the colony at the appointed time to mate. The males die shortly after the mating flight, and the fertilized females remove their wings and set about looking for a suitable place to build a nest. In nature, this would normally be a tree or tree stump.

 

Where Do Carpenter Ants Hide?

  • Both moist and dry wood, but prefer wood which is moist
  • Wood dampened by water leaks, such as around sinks, bathtubs, poorly sealed windows/door frames, roof leaks and poorly flashed chimneys
  • Moist, hollow spaces such as the wall void behind a dishwasher, or in a hollow porch column

 

Common Carpenter Ant Misconceptions

Misconception 1
Carpenter ants are just like termites...they both eat wood!

Reality
Despite their mutual preference for wood, carpenter ants and termites are entirely different insects. Carpenter ants actually don't eat the wood at all; they actually prefer to feed on insects and occasionally honeydew. Carpenter ants simply remove the wood as they build their nesting site. The wooden home of a carpenter ant is laced with smooth, clean, almost sandpapered passageways. The nesting site of a termite, on the other hand, is laced with moist soil.


Misconception 2
I found a nest and destroyed it so the problem is solved.

Reality
Some carpenter ant nests are only satellite colonies, populated strictly by worker ants. These satellite colonies are offshoots of the parent colony, where the queen resides with her eggs and larvae. The parent colony may instead be located somewhere outdoors, perhaps in a rotting tree or fence post. Destroying this central parent colony may require professional pest control even if you have found a nest already.


 

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What can I do to help determine if I have a carpenter ant problem in my home?
A: Since there often will be no external signs of damage, probing the wood with a screwdriver helps reveal the excavated galleries. Another technique for locating hidden nests is to tap along baseboards and other wood surfaces with the blunt end of a screwdriver, listening for the hollow sound of damaged wood. If a nest is nearby, carpenter ants often will respond by making a "rustling" sound within the nest, similar to the crinkling of cellophane. Sawdust found near doorframes, window frames or baseboards is also a clue.


Q: I keep seeing big, black ants in my house, especially in the kitchen and bathroom.
I spray the ones I see, but they keep coming back. Why?

A: These are the questions typically asked by homeowners who have carpenter ants. Carpenter ants are one of the most popular ant infestations but they are also one of the most difficult to control.


Q: What is the best way to help control a carpenter ant problem?
A: The best way to control carpenter ants is to find and destroy the nests. This is often easier said than done. Recent studies have shown that carpenter ants follow distinct scent trails between the satellite colonies and the parent nest. Carpenter ants also rely on scent trails to recruit their nest mates to food. With patience and a little effort, homeowners can use this trailing behavior displayed by carpenter ants to locate and eliminate the nests. Pest professionals with experience locating nests and advanced treatment chemicals are recommended to prevent any further damage.


Q: Is there anything I can do to prevent a future infestation of carpenter ants?
A: Correct roof leaks, plumbing leaks and other moisture problems which will attract carpenter ants. Eliminate wood-to-ground contact such as where landscaping has moved soil or mulch up against the wood siding of a home. Clip back tree limbs and vegetation touching the roof or siding of the house. Limbs and branches serve as bridges between carpenter ants nesting in a dead tree limb and the structure. Seal cracks and openings in the foundation, especially where utility pipes and wires enter from the outside. Stack firewood away from the foundation and elevate it off the ground. Never store firewood in the garage or other areas of the home, as firewood is a prime nesting area for carpenter ants.

 

 

 

 

       

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