Photo credit: Sancho McCann
Like other typical ant species you may see in your home, carpenter ants are very social and live in colonies with different forms of adults that perform different duties throughout the colony.
Carpenter ants are typically 1/4″-7/16″ in size and can be black, red and black, brown or red in color and may have wings or be wingless. The Queen can get up to 9/16″ in size. Just because you may witness different-sized ants doesn’t mean they are from different colonies.
Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not consume wood. They burrow and nest in wood. They prefer moist wood such as dead wood like tree stumps, piles of wood outside, and any wood to soil areas such as decks. Carpenter ants typically feed on aphids and mealybugs which is why you will sometimes see them trailing up and down a tree in search of honeydew on the leaves. It’s not uncommon for them to feed on grease and protein when indoors.
When indoors, you will usually find them underneath sinks, around bathtubs, and dishwashers. The point of entry are usually cracks around doors, windows, conduit and other utility lines entering into the home, and also tree limbs touching the home.
Even though studies have showed that termites cause more home damage per year than natural disasters in the U.S., carpenter ants are known to cost homeowners millions of dollars every year.
Carpenter ants must have a continuing source of moisture in order to survive. Typically dead trees on your property, piles of wood, tree stumps, and even poorly ventilated crawlspaces.
Move tree stumps, dead trees, and any piles of wood such as firewood away from your home will lower your chances of an infestation.
Crawlspaces must be dry and well ventilated. Having a good vapor barrier properly in place and a well-ventilated crawlspace will not only help reduce your risk for carpenter ants, but it will reduce your risk for termites as well.
Inspect and address any drainage issues or leaks.
Leaky spigots and other plumbing fixtures
Redirecting A/C drip lines away from the home that might attract foraging ants
Check for moist and rotting areas on your home such as:
Doors, door frames, and window frames
Leaky roof and rotted eaves.
Rotted out decks. (Make sure you’re using the proper treated lumber when installing any wood to soil such as building a deck and
Inspect and address any damaged flashing
Trim back any tree limbs, branches, and bushes away from touching your home.
Maintain a regular pest control program.
Photo credit: Ingrid Taylar
At times it may seem impossible to get rid of carpenter ants, because you’ve tried every pesticide they sell and these annoying bugs just don’t seem to go away. First, let’s try these steps if you find carpenter ants in your home:
Inspect and try to locate the nesting sites. One of the most common mistakes is thinking “I’ve seen carpenter ants in my kitchen, so they must be nesting somewhere inside of my home or under my home.” In some cases, that may be true, but just because you’ve noticed carpenter ants in your home doesn’t mean they’re actually nesting in your home.
Start inspecting the exterior of your home before any pesticide is applied. Locating the source is more important than the actual treatment.
Spraying all over the home and yard will not resolve your carpenter ant infestation. More likely, they will just move and return later when the chemical has worn off or they might just simply find another route.
Having a regular pest control program will help reduce interior activity, such as applying a perimeter liquid application to the exterior of your home on a routine basis. Keep in mind that this will not resolve the issue but will help reduce potential activity from entering into the home.
Applying a bait source and following where the carpenter ant takes it will help you locate the nesting site. It will also help you to determine if they are nesting in the home or outside just by following to see if it takes the bait towards the home or away from the home out into the yard.
If you are able to determine if the ants are coming from the outside, but are still unable to locate the nest, then a simple Carpenter Ant Bait Granulation applied to areas of activity will have great effect on reducing the population.
Almost any pesticide labeled for carpenter ants will destroy the nest if the nest is located and a liquid application is applied to the actual nest, but in most cases locating the actual nest is unaccessible. The important thing is determining if they’re forging inside of your home or outside.
This can be a little more complicated than if ants are entering from the outside.
Just like the outside, simply spraying all over the home will not get rid of your carpenter ants. In some cases, it can cause more problems such as them moving their nest to another place in the home.
Locating and repairing or replacing any damaged structure should be addressed first. Sometimes locating the damage and replacing it will also result in removing the nest. In some cases, this is the best method of treatment.
Applying a Carpenter Ant Gel Bait in areas where carpenter ants typically gather such as around water sources. (Under sinks and around bathtubs). This process can take weeks, but you should start to notice a decline in activity within a couple weeks.
In rare cases, you may need extensive treatments where void injections are needed. Due to the nature of the service and how dangerous it can be, we highly recommend you do not do this yourself and instead, hire a professional pest control company to handle this method of treatment.
As a homeowner, you will eventually run into ants in your home at some point. Most species are harmless and are just a nuisance. Carpenter ants, however, are labeled as a Wood Destroying Insect and can be very costly if undetected or neglected. One of the more common costly mistakes made is when a homeowner waits to address the activity only when they begin to see them inside of the home. It is much easier and more cost-effective to handle carpenter ants when they have been detected early on. It’s important to be proactive and take preventative measures before you notice a problem.
“Carpenter Ant Management,” University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County
“Carpenter Ants,” University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension
“When Carpenter Ants Take Up Residence” by Jay Romano, The New York Times
For more expert pest control tips, check out our guide.
The Bug Doctor: Adam Villareal, owner and president of Insight Pest Solutions, entomology nerd, and family man. To help demystify the world of bugs, the Bug Doctor answers your questions during our weekly “Ask the Bug Dr.” blog feature. You can submit your bug and pest control inquiries for him on our Facebook page, by tweeting @insightpest, or commenting below.
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