‘Carpenter Ant’ is the name given to members of any of over a thousand species of ants in the genus Camponotus. The ants, found around the world, have been given that name due to their proclivity for living in dead and wet wood. It should be noted however that they do not eat wood. Carpenter ants are relatively large, ranging from a quarter of an inch to an inch. They range in colors depending on the species but are most often black or red and black. The queens and male ants capable of reproducing are winged. Due to their preferred habitat, carpenter ants are often mistaken for termites. Termites have light colored bodies and straight antennas whereas carpenter ants have dark colored bodies and ‘elbowed’ antennas. In addition, carpenter and tunnels are smooth and clean whereas termite tunnels have mud packed into them.
Carpenter ants live both in and outdoors in dead, decaying, damp, or hollow wood. They prefer moist wood because ants’ eggs dry out and die in conditions that are not adequately humid. The ants cut out hollow areas as nests and then cut tunnels and passageways through the wood to move between sections and out of different entrances and exits of the nest. In carving these passageways, the ants often leave behind a sawdust-like material, which can help in identifying their nesting areas. The tunnels are smooth in appearance and feel. They can cause structural damage to buildings and tend to infest areas of a building that are prone to be more damp such as windows, decks, and roofing. In addition, they will often nest in rotting trees, tree stumps, or large logs. A single colony may consist of a number of nests both indoors and outdoors. ‘Satellite nests’ do not necessarily need to be in moist areas as they may contain only worker ants that do not tend eggs.
As with many ants, carpenter ants are omnivores that gather protein and sugar from an endless range of sources. In nature, carpenter ants feed on insects, both living and dead, honeydew (a liquid secreted by aphids and other insects that feed on plants), and various other edible remains they find. Indoors, they feed mainly on food left accessible by the building’s residents including meat, grease, fat, vegetables, fruits, and sweet foods (syrup, sugar, jelly, candies, etc.). The ants generally forage at night. As mentioned previously, carpenter ants do not eat wood.
Finding a Carpenter Ant Nest
Carpenter ants may make their nests inside or outside of your residence and just seeing carpenter ants indoors is not necessarily a sign of a nest in the house. Discovering the location of the main nest is imperative if you have a carpenter ant infestation. Carpenter ants are resistant to cold, but cannot easily survive a winter outdoors. If you see carpenter ants in the house during the winter or early spring, chances are the nest is inside the building. During the spring and summer, nests are more common in homes. During the spring, carpenter ants reproduce by sending out swarms of winged queens and winged males. If you see such a swarm inside your house, you most likely have a nest in the house. Note that seeing a small number of winged carpenter ants does not mean you have a nest in the house and may simply be queens looking for a new place to nest. If you believe you have a carpenter ant nest inside your home, you will want to locate the nest and eliminate the infestation.