Carpenter Ants 101

The real risks posed by these tiny pests

Did you know that there are more than 700 species of ants in the United States? In fact, ants are the number one nuisance pest in the country. Fortunately, most common ant species – like odorous house ants, pavement ants and Argentine ants – pose little threat beyond the annoyance of an infestation, but some ant species – like carpenter ants – can pose serious threats. Even though these pests are very common, many homeowners find themselves looking for more information regarding what carpenter ants do, such as what damage they cause, and how to prevent an infestation.

What Do Carpenter Ants Do?

Carpenter ants get their name because they excavate wood to build their nests. Carpenter ants do not actually eat wood, they only tunnel and chew through it to create nests.

What Do Carpenter Ants Eat?

Carpenter ants primarily eat honeydew, which is a clear sugary liquid produced by some plant-feeding insects and plants. Carpenter ants will also eat insects and other arthropods.

Inside a home, they will eat sweets, eggs, meats, cakes and grease.

What Do Carpenter Ants Look Like?

Carpenter ants can vary in size, ranging anywhere from ½” to ¾” long. While black carpenter ants may be the most common species encountered in and around homes in many parts of the United States, other species can vary in color ranging from a combination of black and red, to completely red or brown. Winged reproductive males and female may be seen in transition to new nests, especially in the springtime.

Where Do Carpenter Ants Live?

There are nine types of carpenter ants that live throughout the United States. They generally prefer to live in cool, damp climates in the northern regions of the country.

Carpenter ants can often be found in fallen logs, water-damaged wood, tree stumps, fence posts, firewood, or landscaping. Indoors, because they prefer to attack wood that has been wet or damaged, they are commonly found in damaged window and doorframes, crawlspaces under roofs, chimneys, sinks, and bathtubs. They also build both parent and satellite nests.

Where Are Carpenter Ant Parent Nests?

Parent nests are usually located outdoors in old tree stumps, fallen logs, or other similar damp wood sources. These nests will contain all life stages in a colony: eggs, larvae, pupae, workers, soldiers, and reproductives.

Where Are Carpenter Ant Satellite Nests?

Satellite nests, which host only workers and mature larvae/pupae, are located in drier areas and are frequently found inside homes in areas such as insulation or wall voids.

How Large Are Carpenter Ant Colonies?

A mature carpenter ant colony can contain more than 10,000 workers. In large colonies, it is not uncommon to have multiple nests inside structures as well as outdoors.

Are Carpenter Ants Dangerous?

These ants do not have a stinger, but adults can bite and have powerful jaws. However, carpenter ants will typically only bite if provoked and are not considered overly aggressive.

Are Carpenter Ants Bad for Your Home?

A concern for many homeowners is that carpenter ants are bad for your home. Of all the ant species, carpenter ants are one of the most problematic. They can cause serious property damage to homes and other buildings.

Their excavation results in smooth tunnels inside the wood. Much like termites and other wood destroying insects, this excavation can compromise the structural soundness of the wood over time. The extent and cost of that damage usually depends on the number of nests inside the structure and how long the ants have been active. They also act as “silent destroyers,” quietly tunneling through wood without any external signs of damage.

How Do I Spot Carpenter Ant Damage?

In some cases, homeowners may notice wood fragments and sawdust that fall through cracks the ants have created. Badly damaged wood will have small openings, like little windows.

Is Carpenter Ant Damage Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

Unfortunately, carpenter ant damage is not usually covered by homeowners insurance. Although policies can vary, many do not cover damage caused by carpenter ants. This is why it is best to work with a pest control professional to assess the situation, help locate the nest, and create a plan to keep carpenter ants out of your home in the future.

How Do Carpenter Ants Enter Buildings?

Carpenter ants usually gain access to buildings through cracks around doors and windows, holes for wires, or straight through wet, damaged wood. They will also crawl along overhead wires, shrubs, or tree limbs that touch the building far above the ground. Although carpenter ants first invade wet, decayed wood, they may eventually build paths through dry, undamaged wood, too.

How Can You Prevent Carpenter Ants?

To prevent a carpenter ant infestation:

  • Eliminate sources of moisture or standing water.
  • Consider using a dehumidifier in crawl spaces, basements, and attics that are prone to dampness.
  • Trim tree branches and shrubs away from the building.
  • Fill any gaps or cracks on the outside of your home with silicone caulk.
  • Store firewood and other wood material at least 20 feet from your home and at least five inches off the ground.

What to Do About Carpenter Ants in Your Home

If you see these pests running around and need to what to do about carpenter ants in your home, the best course of action is to hire a licensed pest professional right away. These pests are not only an annoyance, but carpenter ants are also bad for your home, as they can cause serious wood damage to the structure. The sooner carpenter ants are treated, the less serious and expensive the damage is likely to be.