What are Carpenter Ants, and What Can You do About Them?
Maybe you are seeing large black or brown ants scurrying around the outside and inside of your home. There's a good chance these are Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.). There are over two hundred species of these ants, and some are only found in certain regions of the United States.
People often confuse Carpenter ant wood damage with termite damage, but as it turns out, these ants don't eat wood. Instead, these pests are known for foraging and carving straight tunnels through wood in order to construct their colonies.
How do You Identify Carpenter Ants?
Since there are so many different types of Carpenter ants, assessing a problem isn't as easy as you might like. Most Carpenter ants in the U.S. share similar physical features, and you can start by learning what differentiates them from other ant species. Their primary geographical habitats include the East coast, West coast, and Northwest.
Carpenter ants are typically black or brown, but may also be reddish, tan, orange, or yellowish with black rings, depending on their geographical location. These ants are the largest ants that you will get in your home, and are typically around ½” to 5/8” in length.
Also, worker Carpenter ants have large mandibles (jaws and mouthparts).
Where Are Carpenter Ants Found?
Carpenter ants are known to be particular about their living arrangements, so knowing what Carpenter ants look like by region can better help you identify them.
East coast (Black Carpenter ant) Their favorite nesting sites include areas with damp or decaying wood (like Acrobat ants), i.e., damaged trees, logs, and stumps.
West coast (Western Carpenter ant) These ants sport a dull black body with reddish legs, and their favorite nesting sites also include damp, decaying wood, particularly tree stumps or logs. On rare occasions, they may nest in hard, healthy wood.
Northwest (Carpenter ant) In the Northwest, Carpenter ants are black with a reddish body. Their favorite nesting sites also include damp, rotting wood, but especially if there is fungus or moisture damage. They may also nest in trees or stumps, or under rocks and logs.
Why am I Seeing Carpenter Ants in My Home?
For one thing, it depends on what time of year it is. If you only see Carpenter ants in your house during the warm weather, it means they're seasonal and probably coming indoors to forage for food. But if you are seeing them indoors in the winter months, chances are they're nesting indoors.
As these pests are known to build their nests in damp, decaying wood (or sometimes solid wood), homes with moisture issues due to leaks are ideal areas for Carpenter ants to set up shop. These ants may use tree branches overhanging your roof as a bridge to get indoors, and they may try to get in via unsealed openings around utility pipes and wires, or other cracks and crevices around windows and the foundation.
Can Carpenter Ants be a Serious Problem?
Cosmetic and Structural Damage
Carpenter ants dig tunnels through wood to gather material to build their nests (unlike termites who actually eat wood). By so doing, these ants can weaken wood from the inside. If you end up with a long-term infestation and multiple nearby Carpenter ant colonies, it could possibly mean some cosmetic damage. More concerning, however, you may also end up with a structural damage problem on your hands!
Do I Have a Carpenter Ant Infestation?
A couple of surefire signs of Carpenter ant activity include visible debris (shavings from their burrowing and body parts of dead ants), and a distinct "rustling" noise these ants make when burrowing through the home's wood.
Carpenter workers and winged Carpenter ants (swarmers) are the most visible of all in the colony.
- Workers: The workers may be seen foraging for food and moisture.
- Winged swarmers: Swarmer Carpenter ants are usually produced when a colony becomes well established and is on the verge of forming new colonies.
How do I Distinguish Carpenter Ants From Termites?
Both ants and termites can be equally dangerous to your home's structure if they attack in large enough numbers, but you want to know the difference between them so you can identify the culprits and know what measures to take.
Some primary differences between ants (including Carpenter ants) and termites:
- Termite swarmers have two pairs of wings of equal length, while ant swarmers have two pairs of wings as well, but their front wings are larger than the back pair.
- Termites have straight antennae while ants' antennae are curved.
- Termite midsection areas are thick, while ant waists are thin.
Where do I Find Carpenter Ants in my Home?
Though Carpenter ants are known to establish their nests in some form of rotting wood, this may change, depending on the species and type of colony.
Carpenter ant nests come in two types:
Parent colonies: These colonies are found outside in varying degrees of damp, rotting wood, such as in trees, stumps, limbs, roots, boards, and logs. Damp, decaying wood can easily be found inside as well, so Carpenter ants (and Acrobat ants, as well), if they discover it in your house, will start moving in.
Satellite colonies: Satellite colonies are built by Carpenter ants from their parent colonies, and are mainly inhabited by workers and maturing larvae. These colonies are apt to be found in drier locations, including hollow doors and even in insulation. Worker ants will constantly be traveling back and forth between their satellite colony and parent colony.
How do I find a Carpenter Ant nest?
The first step to eliminate the problem is to find their nest. Here are some places to look:
- Damp areas. Look for areas indoors and out in your yard that are chronically damp, as damp, rotting wood is where they love to nest. You want to fix nearby leaks (this will help keep away other types of ants and pests, too). Inspect the wood around your windows and doors, and check behind sinks, showers, tile, your dishwasher, refrigerator, etc. Carpenter ants can also make homes in your attic or basement, under roofing, and under subfloors.
- Sawdust. Piles of sawdust and other wood/ant debris are a good signal. These piles won’t be at long distances from their sources, so sawdust should indicate that a Carpenter ant nest is nearby.
- Rustling sounds. When disturbed, Carpenter ants will make a "rustling" noise with their jaws to communicate with others in the colony. Tap any areas where you suspect they are hiding, and then listen.
Follow them. You might get lucky and catch them headed back to their nest in the evening, after sunset (they are most active at this time of day). Use something sweet, like honey, as a bait, and then follow them. Try not to startle them with direct light.
Hopefully, you will have found the nest by now, and you can get down to business.
How do You Get Rid of Carpenter Ants?
There are different approaches, depending on the seriousness of your Carpenter ant problem.
Sprays: Sprays can be used indoors and outdoors, work well as a spot treatment for ants you see, and they also work well on a Carpenter ant nest, especially if it is exposed (more visible areas to spray). Maggie's Farm Ant & Roach Killer spray not only kills Carpenter ants, it also kills other species of ants, bed bugs, cockroaches, spiders, ticks, fleas, and a variety of other crawling pests.
Bait: Baiting is generally the best long-term solution for any ant problem, as it can kill off an entire colony, rather than just the ants you can see. Workers consume the bait and take it back home to share with other ants, eventually killing off the entire colony.
Dusts: Dusts also work well as an ant contact killer, if you can find the colony/nest. Try Maggie's Farm Spider & Insect Dust. For Carpenter ants, cover the nest with dust and gently puff dust into the nest entrance, doing your best not to disturb the nest. Repeat a few days later if there is still ant activity.
How do You Prevent Carpenter Ants?
If an infestation hasn't taken over your home, there are preventive steps you can take to help make Carpenter ants unwelcome.
Problem areas. Inspect your home and yard for moist, decaying wood, and do what you can to minimize it. Cover up your firewood pile outside with a tarp to keep it dry, and keep it at least 20 feet away from your house. If you have damp wood indoors, circulate air and a fan, if necessary, to dry it out. Repair leaks inside and around your home.
Trees. Clean up stumps, limbs, and tree roots in your yard, and trim tree and shrub branches away from the side of your home (Don't give Carpenter ants a bridge indoors!).
Perimeter sprays. These sprays work well to keep Carpenter ants and countless other pests away from your home. Maggie’s Farm Yard Bug Spray can be used around the perimeter of your house to create a repellent barrier of protection by preventing Carpenter ants from getting inside. It will also kill them on contact. Plan to repeat spraying about every 45 – 60 days.
You May Need to Call a Professional
There's a lot you can do yourself to help manage Carpenter ants you may find in your home or yard. If an ant invasion is more than you are able to handle, call a pest control professional.
Remember, a large and long lasting infestation can result in serious damage to your home!
For more general help with ants, read the following articles:
How do you control Carpenter ants? We want to hear from you! Leave us a comment below!
For scientifically-tested, effective Carpenter ant control in your home, yard, and garden that is friendly to the environment, try Maggie’s Farm pest control products. Our promise is that our plant and mineral-based products are developed by scientists and seasoned pest control professionals to be the most effective.