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Carpenter Ants

What is a Carpenter Ant?
Where You'll Find Carpenter Ants
Telltale Signs of Carpenter Ants
Reinfestation by Carpenter Ants

Nesting Sites of Carpenter Ants
Points of Entry for Carpenter Ants


What is a Carpenter Ant?

(1/4" - 1/2" long) Nesting in damp locations, carpenter ants prefer to excavate wood that has been damaged by water. From their nests in the beams, floors or walls, they scavenge the house for food crumbs and insects. Carpenter ants may occur in several colors, although the most important species are black.

One of the largest members of the ant family, carpenter ants take their name from their habit of chewing passageways (called "galleries") inside wood. They live in these galleries and make excursions, most often at night, to hunt for food and water. These ants often set up satellite colonies inside homes from parent colonies located outside in a tree or landscape timber.

Where You'll Find Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants love damp climates and moist areas – damp wood, any dark void, a few morsels of food. Places that get a lot of rain are especially susceptible. So are homes built in heavily wooded areas or in low, shady places where the ground stays damp. In your home, you're likely to find carpenter ants nesting around a sink in the kitchen or bathroom. Maybe even around plumbing leaks, clogged gutters and downspouts.

A clean house is no guarantee. When carpenter ants move in, the first thing they do is look for food. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood. They search for syrup, honey, jelly, meat, fruit, grease, fat, and other domestic foods. If these favorites are not available in your home, the ants will feed on dead or living insects or any other type of organic matter.

To construct their galleries, carpenter ants tear bits of wood and place them outside the nest. These sawdust-looking piles, called frass, may be the first visible sign that carpenter ants are present. Left unchecked for a period of time, these galleries can become quite large. While the primary nest is found in damp wood, carpenter ants establish many satellite colonies. This makes them difficult to control, especially since colonies may be found in any dark void- hollow curtain rods, hollow-core doors, ceilings, dead wall space, etc.

Carpenter ants mature in about two months and immediately start enlarging the nest. First year broods are small, with only 10 to 20 workers. But in a few years, when the colony has thousands of workers, small tunnels become major expressways connecting many hidden galleries. You may not be aware that a strong colony is firmly entrenched in your home until it is too late.

Telltale Signs of Carpenter Ants

  • Trails of workers around the kitchen, pantry, and other areas where food is stored
  • Sawdust-like material that workers kick out of their nests during excavation
  • Listen for ant sounds in the quiet of the night. When the ants are chewing, or simply moving around in the nest, they make a sound like rustling cellophane.

If you see or hear any of these signs, you may have carpenter ants.

The experts at Terminix tell us you need to have a well-constructed plan for dealing with carpenter ants. If you suspect carpenter ants have invaded your home, it's best to seek immediate treatment. Professionals make a thorough inspection of your home, inside and out. Depending on your home's construction and the location of the main nest and satellite colonies, these professionals will use a variety of methods to treat the problem. These might include crack and crevice treatment, inner wall treatments, or even fumigation.

Reinfestation by Carpenter Ants

Reinfestation by carpenter ants is a constant threat. Only regular inspections and preventive service can keep them out.

Nesting Sites of Carpenter Ants

  • Dead limbs of living trees
  • Under attic insulation.
  • Hollow trees
  • Roofs
  • Interior wall voids
  • Hollow core doors
  • Under exterior siding
  • Ceilings
  • Supports in crawl space
  • Exterior wall voids
  • Stumps
  • Wood pile
  • Sill plates
  • Between insulation and subfloors
  • Roots of dead trees

Points of Entry for Carpenter Ants

  • Clogged drains and gutters
  • Fencing next to home
  • Wiring entrances
  • Edges of fireplace brick
  • Window casings
  • Door frames
  • Vines and plants touching home
  • Edges of siding
  • Mulch around home
  • Crawl space vent
  • Plumbing
  • Wood in contact with soil


Carpenter Ants

  • Are typically large ants up to 5/8-inch long; color varies from black, brown & black, red and black, to light brown depending on the species. The two most common pest species are black in color.
  • Most common pest ant seen in homes throughout the northern United States from the east to west coast.
  • The main colony must have a constant source of moisture to survive so it is usually located in dead wood outside, e.g., dead limbs, tree holes, stumps, landscape timbers, etc. Indoors, a main colony will have to be associated with a water leak or an overly wet, poorly ventilated crawlspace or attic.
  • The main colony may establish satellite colonies that are the primary source of ant activity inside homes. These satellite colonies may be located in any suitable void, under attic insulation, etc. Colonies have even been found by Terminix professionals inside hollow doors, curtain rods, shower rods, and once inside an alarm clock!
  • These ants set up trunk trails between the main colony to satellite colonies and between satellite colonies. Foraging ants can most easily be seen along these trunk trails at night when the ants are most active. Sometimes, the trunk trails occur beneath the ground following tree roots.
  • Since carpenter ants may forage as far as 200 yards or further, the main colony may be located on a neighboring property.
  • Carpenter ants feed on a wide variety of foods, especially other insects. The favored food of adults is the sweet honeydew produced by plant-feeding insects, such as aphids, scales, and mealybugs.
  • In the spring, mature colonies produce winged reproductives, called swarmers, that fly out to start new colonies. These swarms often occur from satellite colonies within homes so a homeowner may see large flying ants in their home at night.
  • Carpenter ant queens are about 3/4-inch in length while the males are smaller at 1/2-inch. The color varies depending on the species.
  • Carpenter ants can be very difficult to control so most homeowners employee the services of a professional company like Terminix.

Argentine Ants

  • Argentine ants are the most common invader of homes in Southern California. This ant is also very common in homes throughout most of the Gulf Coast states.
  • The workers are dark brown to black and are about 1/8-inch in length. The body is often shiny in appearance.
  • The colonies of Argentine ants can grow quite large containing tens of thousands of workers and numerous queens.
  • Each colony will be divided into subcolonies which are located in various suitable harborages and which are connected by established trunk trails. These subcolonies will number from a few hundred to thousands of individuals.
  • Subcolonies will take advantage of every available suitable site where enough protection and moisture is present. Nests may occur in the soil next to trees and shrubs and under any item in contact with the soil. Indoors, this ant will nest within wall voids, under the edge of carpeting, under attic ventilation, and behind dishwashers to name but a few sites.
  • During the summer, Argentine ants aggressively forage for food during the morning , late afternoon, and evening hours. Foragers enter homes to find food and from there decide to locate a subcolony indoors.
  • The food preferences are varied but the workers readily feed on the honeydew produced by aphids, scales, and mealybugs as their main source of nutrition. Insects, carrion, and similar protein foods are carried back to the nest to feed the larvae.
  • In areas where the Argentine ant is a major pest, the best strategy to keep home invasions to a minimum is through a course of regular exterior inspections and service.

Pavement Ants

  • Pavement ants are small (1/8-inch) ants that are regular pests of buildings throughout the northeast to the Midwestern United States. This ant is also found along the west coast from California to Washington.
  • This ant derives its name for its preference of nesting in soil next to and beneath slabs, sidewalks, patios, and driveways.
  • Colonies are usually easy to find due to the piles of displaced soil next to and on top of pavement.
    Indoors, pavement ants nest under the foundation and within hollow block foundation walls. Occasionally, a colony may carry soil up into a wall to form a nest. When piles of soil appear from under baseboards or on top of a basement or garage floor, it is a good sign that pavement ants may be present.
  • Individual pavement colonies can often be controlled using ant baits, but perimeter inspection and treatment is commonly necessary for long term relief.

Imported Fire Ants

  • The red imported fire ant was brought into this country during the 1920s and has spread to cover most of the Gulf Coast states and most of eastern Texas. It is now established north into parts of Tennessee and North Carolina.
  • This reddish brown ant has many sizes of workers in the colony ranging from 1/8- to almost 3/8-inch in length. It is easily distinguished from other ants if one is unlucky enough to be stung.
  • Fire ants pose a health risk to anyone venturing into areas where the ants are found. Although the vast majority of stings result only in a raised welt that may develop a white pustule, a person allergic to insect stings could experience a more serious reaction. Additionally, a person seldom receives just one sting, rather several to dozens and possibly hundreds of stings can occur quickly to a person accidentally kneeling or standing next to or on a fire ant mound.
  • These ants nest in the soil and construct large mounds that are easily seen in lawns and pastures. A single lawn may contain a dozen or more mounds.
  • This ant will also locate nests within landscape mulch and beneath items on the ground, such as landscape timbers. The mounds of such colonies may be shallow and poorly structured making them difficult to detect to the less experienced eye.
  • Fire ants may construct mounds next to the foundation and enter homes through weep holes or other exterior cracks and holes. Once inside, workers forage in trails beneath the edge of carpeting. On occasion, the ants will bring soil up into walls or beneath first floor bathrooms and construct a nest.
  • Due to the health threat posed by fire ants, it is important to take steps to control the ants around the home and in the yard.
  • Over-the-counter fire ant baits can be effective if properly used, but regular reapplications are necessary because the ants readily reinvade from neighboring properties. Many homeowners employ the services of a professional, like Terminix, to provide such services.

Odorous House Ants, Crazy Ants, Ghost Ants, White-Footed Ants

  • Odorous house ants are brown ants about 1/8-inch long. If crushed, the workers give off a rotten coconut odor, hence their name. They are common in California north to Washington and are the most common pest ant in the mid-south region of Arkansas and West Tennessee. They may be encountered occasionally throughout the Midwestern United States.
  • Crazy ants are 1/8-inch long, black ants with extremely long legs and antennae. These ants received their name from their habit of quick zig-zag movements that seem to have to real, apparent direction. They are common in all the Gulf Coast states from Florida to Texas and can be found in parts of Arizona and in commercial buildings in a few northern cities, such as Philadelphia and New York.
  • Ghost ants are tiny (< 1/16-inch), pale colored ants with a dark head and abdomen. These ants are very difficult to see unless one looks closely. This ant is now a major pest throughout most of Florida and several of the Hawaiian Islands. It occasionally is found in apartments and greenhouses in northern states.
  • The white-footed ant is a black ant about 1/8-inch long. The tarsal segments at the end of all six legs are pale in color giving it its name. This ant is a serious pest in southern Florida and on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
  • All four species may develop huge colonies containing thousands of workers and numerous queens. A colony of white-footed ants can number up to one million individuals.
  • All four of these ants nest outdoors under items on the ground, within landscape mulch, beneath loose bark on trees, under ground cover, in potted plants, and within piles of items, such as lumber, firewood, or bricks.
  • Nests may readily be established inside homes in walls, beneath carpeting, and other suitable voids or spaces.
  • All three species are difficult to control and do not feed much on ant baits. The keys to control are to find the colonies and subcolonies and treat them directly. Regular inspections and service are necessary to find and treat new colonies as they move in from neighboring properties. The services of a professional, such as Terminix, are very helpful when encountering these ants.

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