Carpenter ants can damage both moist and dry wood. They hollow out a cavity in the wood to construct a nest. Homeowners usually see a pile of sawdust near the nest's entrance location. The carpenter ants prefer moist wood and will often take up residence in water-damaged wood areas of the home. The ants can build nests inside and outside. A colony often forms two nests -- a parent nest and a satellite nest -- of which only the parent nest holds the queen, eggs and larvae. The parent nest can contain up to 2,000 worker ants, but the satellite nest usually has far fewer individuals, according to the University of Kentucky Entomology. In the spring, when the flying ants swarm, they originate from a parent nest.
The winged queen carpenter ant can measure up to 1 inch in length. During the spring months, the black male and female carpenter ants sport wings. The insects leave their nest in vast mating swarms. After the male and female mate, the queen will fly off to search for an appropriate nest location. Upon finding a suitable site, her wings drop off, and a new colony begins.
Carpenter ants do not feed on wood, unlike termites. They feed predominantly on dead insects. The ants also enjoy consuming the excrement of scales and aphids. Often referred to as honeydew, the waste product of the insects attracts most ant species and some wasps. The ants will also forage for meat and sweets left over by humans. Foraging activity usually occurs from the early evening hours until midnight during the spring and summer. A worker carpenter ant will venture up to 100 yards from the nest to search for food.
The carpenter ant colony does not cause the extensive damage that a termite colony can produce. They will hollow out tunnels and galleries throughout the wood's grain. After the ants excavate the area, the wood appears clean and sawdust free because the worker ants carry the sawdust out of the excavation sector and deposit it in a neat pile. The damage will become more severe over time as the colony grows. The wood structure will begin to decline with extensive wood damage.
Locate the carpenter ants' nest to eradicate the colony. Worker carpenter ants follow the same trails day after day. Each worker ant lays a scent that other worker ants pick up. Watch the ants every day as they travel the same trail to locate the nest. Drill several holes into the walls or other areas where the carpenter ants have built a nest and puff boric acid into the location. The boric acid will successfully kill the ants. Drench outdoor nests with a liquid insecticide that contains diazinon, carbaryl or chlorpyrifos. Follow the directions on the insecticide's label for application instructions. Pest control companies can apply a perimeter repellent spray to deter carpenter ants from a home.
- University of Minnesota Extension; Carpenter Ants; Jeffrey Hahn, et al.; 2008
- University of Kentucky Entomology; Carpenter Ants; Mike Potter; January 2010
- University of Minnesota Extension; Yard & Garden Line News; Jeffrey Hahn, et al.; May 2000
- Iowa State University Extension; Carpenter Ants; Donald Lewis; June 1993
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images
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