Ants may be small, but these little insects come in great numbers and variations. While some may come around just to raid your pantry, others can cause significant damage to your home. Carpenter ants are wood excavators, and they are constantly on the lookout for a good place to build their nests.

But what exactly are carpenter ants, and how can you spot them? Here are the most frequently asked questions about carpenter ants.

Carpenter ants are segmented, social insects that nest in wood. They can be found all over the Northeastern United States, and they typically nest in dead, decaying, or softwood. Carpenter ants can also have wings and are often mistaken for termites. While they may not do as much damage as termites, they can cause structural damage.

Among the largest ants in the United States, they can range from ½ – ⅝ inch long. Their segmented bodies are commonly black, but they can also be brown, or red. The worker ants can also be identified by their large mandibles or mouthparts. Queens can be as long as 1 -inch.

Carpenter ants build nests and tunnels in wood. They typically live in wooded areas. You’ll likely find them in areas with excessive moisture, soft wood, and ample food sources.

Carpenter ants live in large colonies, typically in moist areas with decaying wood. You’ll find them in rotting trees, stumps, logs, or other areas with soft wood. They aren’t limited to natural options; they will often build nests in window panels, or other wooden structures. If they happen to nest inside your home, they will hide away in bathrooms, hollow spaces like doors or walls, basements, and attics. They will also nest in foam insulation.

Depending on the size of the colonies, this type of ant will build satellite nests to lay eggs in drier areas.

Carpenter ant colonies usually contain around 3,000 adult ants. However, depending on the species, some colonies can grow as large as 100,000.

Yes. Carpenter ants have been known to bite, and they have strong jaws. A bite can be quite painful, especially if they inject formic acid into the wound. The acid will result in a burning sensation, and though it hurts, it won’t cause any lasting damage.

No. Aside from a nasty bite, carpenter ants aren’t particularly harmful to humans. They do not carry any diseases, and they will not swarm you. Carpenter ants won’t go out of their way to bite you and will only do so if threatened.

While they may not cause you any physical damage, they can cause major structural damage. Though not as terrible as termites, carpenter ants can destroy walls, beams, windows, and other areas in your home to build their nests.

Despite their living space, carpenter ants do not eat wood. They do chew it up and build nests, but they feed mainly on protein and sugar. Their main diet is living or dead insects, and a sweet liquid produced by aphids called honeydew. If they make their way inside, however, they will eat a variety of your foods such as meats, pet food, honey, sugar, and other sweet foods.

Ants will send out foragers up to 300 feet of their nest, and the workers are constantly on the lookout for food, day or night.

Yes. Some carpenter ants do have wings. Not all carpenter ants will have them, as these “swarmers” are part of the reproductive cycle and colony expansion. They are usually a sign of an established ant colony.

Once an ant colony matures, carpenter ants will produce “swarmers” to form new colonies. These carpenter ants will emerge near August, and head out in the daylight to swarm. These ants release pheromones to draw the female from the nest to mate. The ants will shed their wings after they’ve mated, and the males will die shortly after.

The queen will lay between 9 – 16 eggs in the first year, and the eggs complete their life cycle in 6 – 12 weeks. Spotting winged carpenter ants in your home is a sure sign of an established colony.

There are few things to look for when you suspect you may have an infestation. The first is the presence of large black or red ants. Check where they are coming from; it could be your walls, ceiling, or other open spots in your home. Another thing to look for is sawdust or wood shaving around any wooden areas in your home.

If you are looking outside, you may notice ant trails or paths on your lawn. Additionally, you may hear them munching away in your walls. The biggest sign of a colony, though, is spotting shedded wings or winged males in your home.

If you do spot a carpenter ant in your home, resist the urge to squish it. Killing one ant won’t destroy a colony of over 3,000. Instead, watch to see where the ant goes. If you spot a trail, follow that back to find the main colony. Check woodpiles, stumps, and other areas in your yard, as well as wooden fixtures on and in your home.

Keep an eye out for swarmers, dead ants, and other signs of ants thriving in your home. This includes searching for damaged wood in your walls, cabinets, doors, and other stand-out areas. Once you find the colony, it can be easier to see what you’re up against.

While sprays work well for spot treatments, they are only effective when you know where the nest is. Spraying workers won’t amount to much if the queen keeps laying eggs. Additionally, ants are resistant or aware of pesticides. This may end up splitting the nests, creating more problems rather than getting rid of the big colony.

The most effective way to deal with a carpenter ant infestation is to find the nest. Whether you do the detective work or refer to a pest control expert, you need to get to the root of the problem.

The best way to prevent carpenter ants is to do regular maintenance on your home and keep it inhospitable for them. Treat and care for the wooden fixtures in furniture outdoors, and keep firewood stored away from the home. Also, trim any hanging trees and remove any stumps in your yard.

To keep them out of your house, seal all openings with a silicone-based caulk, and do regular checks on your pipes, gutters, and other areas that tend to accumulate moisture. Eliminate any areas with standing water and keep plants and bushes well-trimmed.

Concluding Thoughts

Carpenter ants can be quite a problem, especially if they are nesting in your home. To avoid major damage and to stop an infestation at its source, consider contacting a pest control expert. Keep your home safe and structurally sound with an inspection and stop ants in their tracks.