Biology and Habits
Carpenter ants, vary in size and color but are usually large (1/4-1/2
inch) and blackish. Occasionally, swarms of winged carpenter ant reproductives
will emerge inside a home. Carpenter ant swarms usually occur in the spring
and are a sure sign that a colony is nesting somewhere inside the structure.
Besides being objectionable
by their presence, carpenter ants damage wood by hollowing it out for
nesting. They excavate galleries in wood which have a smooth, sandpapered
appearance. Wood which has been damaged by carpenter ants contains no
mud-like material, as is the case with termites. Shredded fragments of
wood, similar in appearance to coarse sawdust, are ejected from the galleries
through preexisting cracks or slits made by the ants. When such accumulations
are found (typically containing dead ants and bits of insects which the
carpenter ants have eaten), it's a good indication that a carpenter ant
nest is nearby. Oftentimes, however, the excavated sawdust remains hidden
behind a wall or in some other concealed area.
How do you tell the difference between carpenter
ants and termites? Winged carpenter ants can be distinguished from termites
by their larger size and shape of their antennae, waist and wings.
Carpenter ants nest
in both moist and dry wood, but prefer wood which is moist. Consequently,
the nests are more likely to be found in wood dampened by water leaks,
such as around sinks, bathtubs, poorly sealed windows/ door frames, roof
leaks and poorly flashed chimneys. Nests are especially common in moist,
hollow spaces such as the wall void behind a dishwasher, or in a hollow
porch column. 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.
Carpenter ants may
establish nests in a number of different locations. It is important to
realize that these locations can be either inside or outside the structure.
Carpenter ants actually construct two different kinds of nests: parent
colonies which, when mature, contain an egg-laying queen, brood and 2000
or more worker ants, and satellite colonies which may have large numbers
of worker ants but no queen, eggs or young larvae. The carpenter ants
inside a home may have originated from the parent colony or from one or
more satellite nests. For example, the ants may be coming from the parent
nest located outdoors in a tree stump, landscape timber or woodpile, or
from one or more satellite nests hidden behind a wall in the kitchen or
bathroom, or perhaps from wood dampened by a roof leak in the attic.
The extent and potential
damage to a home depends on how many nests are actually present within
the structure, and how long the infestation has been active. Although
large carpenter ant colonies are capable of causing structural damage,
the damage is not normally as serious as that from termites. In some cases,
the damage may be relatively insignificant, but this can only be determined
by locating and exposing the nest area.
Carpenter Ants Control
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 nestmates to food. With
patience and a little effort, homeowners can use this trailing behavior
displayed by carpenter ants to locate and eliminate the nests.
When carpenter ants
are observed, don't spray them; instead, feed the ants small dabs of diluted
honey placed onto the back (nonsticky side) of pieces of masking tape.
The best time to do this is late at night since this is when carpenter
ants are most active. After the ants have fed on the honey, follow them
on their journey back to their nest. Be patient-- eventually the ants
will disappear behind a baseboard, cabinet, or into some other concealed
location such as the hollow space (void) within a wall, door casing, or
Treat wall voids and
other hidden spaces where ants are entering by carefully drilling a series
of small (1/8 inch) holes and puffing boric acid (available at most hardware
stores) into the suspected nest areas. The boric acid powder will disperse
in the hidden void and contact and kill the ants. If you suspect the nest
is in a wall, drill and treat at least 3-6 feet on either side of where
ants are entering so as to maximize the chances of contacting the nest.
Carpenter ants prefer to travel along wires, pipes and edges. If you suspect
the nest location is in a wall, also treat behind pipe collars and behind
--not in-- the junction box for electrical switch plates/receptacles.
NEVER SPRAY LIQUIDS OR INSERT METAL-TIPPED DEVICES AROUND ELECTRICAL OUTLETS!).
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As noted earlier, carpenter
ants seen in the home may actually be nesting outdoors, foraging indoors
for food and/or moisture. Consequently, the homeowner may end up following
the ants they have baited with honey out of the house and into the yard,
possibly to a nest located in a stump, or under a log or railroad tie.
Once the outdoor nest is discovered, treatment can be performed by spraying
or drenching the nest with an insecticide such as carbaryl (Sevin), diazinon,
or chlorpyrifos (Dursban). If outdoor nests are suspected, the homeowner
should also inspect around the foundation of the building at night with
a flashlight, especially around doors, weep holes and openings such as
where utility pipes and wires enter the structure. The baiting approach
using honey can also be used to trace carpenter ants which are foraging
outdoors back to their nest.
Tips When Calling
Oftentimes, it will
be difficult or impossible to locate and destroy the carpenter ant nest(s).
In this case, the homeowner may wish to call a professional pest control
operator. Pest control companies approach carpenter ant problems differently.
Some attempt to locate the nest and selectively treat only in specific
areas. Other companies take more of a "shot-gun" approach, drilling
and dusting as many potential wall voids and nesting sites as possible.
Most companies also
apply a perimeter spray treatment around the outside foundation of the
home in an effort to temporarily prevent reinvasion. The approach which
should not be used is simply to spray each month where carpenter ants
are seen. If no effort is made to locate the nest(s) or probable nest
areas, the problem will most likely continue.
Typically, there will
be wide differences in price depending on the company and amount of effort
expended. Since carpenter ant problems are not always solved on the first
attempt, the type of guarantee and reputation of the company should be
factored into the purchasing decision.
Please be noted that calling a pest control professional
can and will incurr in High Cost!
Carpenter Ant Prevention
- A number of steps can be taken by homeowners
to reduce the potential for future carpenter ant problems:
- 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
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