Identification and Life Cycle
Carpenter ants are also known as the Genus Camponotus, which are part of the family Formicidae (ants). Carpenter ants vary in size and color (black, brown or reddish), but are normally large and blackish and are either wingless (workers) or winged. A winged carpenter ant can sometimes be mistaken for a termite. The “workers” are wingless and are a dark shiny brown to black color, 1/4 to 1/2 inch in length. The winged carpenter ant resembles the workers in color and shape but are longer in length at up to 3/4 inch long.
A colony of carpenter ants does not usually produce winged males and queens (queens are the productives), until it is several years old and has approximately 2,000 to 3,000 workers. About 200 to 450 winged ants can develop in the summer months and then hibernate within the nest through the winter. The winged males and females then come out from their colonies on warm days in the spring and early summer.
The development from an egg to a worker ant, can take up to 60 days. The queen’s only function is to lay eggs. The adult worker gathers food, maintains and defends the nest as well as tending to the eggs, larvae and pupae. Some species produce eggs, which are eaten by the queen and workers. Carpenter ants are capable of biting or stinging people, but are not poisonous and do not carry disease.
Habits and Damage
Carpenter ants are social insects that live in colonies and excavate wood. They may establish nests in different locations either inside or outside a structure; such as in underground tunnels or galleries in dead wood, or within wall, ceiling or floor voids. Carpenter ants usually construct two kinds of nests; parent colonies: can consist of one egg-laying queen, brood and a minimum of 2,000 workers and satellite colonies: can include a large number of worker ants, but no queen, eggs or larvae.
Carpenter ants have the potential to cause serious damage if permitted to remain in the structure by hollowing out tunnels in the wood for nesting. They can nest in both dry and moist wood. Because they prefer moist wood, nests are more likely to be found in wood dampened by water leaks in places such as around sinks, bathtubs, poorly sealed windows and door frames. The presence of winged ants inside or outside a home year-round can indicate an infestation. While seeing a seasonal presence is not as serious, it should not be ignored.
Common Signs Of Carpenter ant activity
- A winged carpenter ant is an indication of an infestation of about 3 to 6 years old and may have already caused damage.
- Small piles of wood shavings (sawdust), bits of soil, dead ants and parts of insects in isolated areas such as window sills and floor moldings.
- A satellite colony of carpenter ants can sometimes be found by listening for clicking or a rustling sound behind the walls.
- Damaged wood. This can be determined by the galleries built by the ants.
Prevention and Management
The best way to control carpenter ants is to locate all their nests and destroy them, or chances are the ants will reappear. It is best to check all areas of the structure that have had excess moisture and check for hollow-sounding wood, which may indicate a problem. More common areas to check are the basement, attic, garage and building exterior, as well as porch pillars, sills, wall studs, window and door casings.
Carpenter ants follow scent trails between the satellite and parent colonies. Follow the ants as they search for food and eventually you will see them return with food back to the colony. With a little time and patience, it may be possible to locate their nest(s). In some cases, carpenter ants seen in the home actually may be nesting outdoors and seeking food indoors.
The following steps can be taken to help prevent or reduce a potential problem with carpenter ants.
- Correct any moisture problems around the structure such as roof leaks, holes in siding, faulty water pipes, & improper installed drain pipes.
- Cut back tree limbs and shrubbery in contact with the roof or siding of the structure as well as removing tree stumps and dead trees.
- Remove any wood in contact with the ground. Wood should not be in contact with the soil.
- Replace any decayed or water damaged wood.
- Store firewood away from the structure and elevate it off the ground. Never keep firewood in the garage or other indoor locations; it is a prime nesting area for carpenter ants.
- Seal all cracks and openings in the foundation as well as around utility pipes and wires.