It’s hard to tell carpenter ants and regular ants apart. Chances are you’ve seen carpenter ants or even had them in your home before and didn’t know! That’s a problem, because although they seem like regular ants, carpenter ants can actually pose a threat to your home.
Most carpenter ant infestations happen in the spring and late fall. If you find carpenters in your home during cold months, it’s probably because they’ve taken up residence. Carpenters can do significant structural damage over time, so it’s important to find and deal with them quickly. Here’s everything you need to know about the wood-infesting pest, and how to handle it.
What are they?
Carpenter ants are one of the largest and most prevalent ants in Michigan. Most species resemble a larger version of a regular ant. They come in a variety of colors including black, red and black, dull yellow, grey, or brown. Adult specimens are usually between ¼ and ½ inches long. Carpenters may resemble termites, but they have darker bodies, narrower waists, bent antennae, and a rounded thorax.
Colonies of carpenters are divided into castes, and different castes have different distinguishing characteristics and sizes. Worker carpenter ants have large mandibles. The most easily-identified carpenter ant is the reproductive “swarmer” caste. These ants have two sets of wings–hind wings and front wings. Carpenters become a problem because their colonies can grow large quickly. Large colonies can inflict structural damage on homes in relatively short periods of time.
Where do they live?
Carpenter ants create their colony’s nest by hollowing out wood to build tunnels within it. Wood that has been hollowed out by carpenter ants is structurally compromised. It takes on a dry, smooth, almost sandpaper-like appearance and may collapse under strain. Carpenter ants gnaw the wood they want to move into a compact, sawdust-like material. Spotting this transported wood dust is one of the only reliable ways to find carpenter ants.
Outside, carpenter ants usually build colonies into wood that’s already been hollowed out. Most outdoor “parent” colonies are located in rotting trees, tree stumps, roots, fallen logs, or other decaying wood. As colonies expand, they require “satellite” colonies to continue to support a growing population. These expansion efforts are usually what brings carpenter ants into a home, especially in the spring.
What do they eat?
Unlike termites, carpenter ants don’t eat the wood they infest. Instead, these ants subsist on proteins and sugars, which they obtain from a wide variety of sources. They’ll eat insects, meat, pet food, syrup, honey, grains, jelly, and pretty much anything else they can find. They’re particularly attracted to the honeydew secreted by aphids and scale insects.
Worker ants have been known to forage up to 100 yards away from their colonies in order to find food. The workers bring any food they find back to the colony, where it’s distributed among all members. Carpenter ants also require a source of moisture to keep hydrated. Usually, a carpenter ant colony will establish its main nest near some source of moisture outside. Satellite nests need moisture, too, but not to the same extent as the main nest does.
Why do they want to get into my home?
Carpenter ants prefer to make their colonies in moist, soft wood. Moist wood provides enough water to sustain the colony while they expand. Soft wood is easier to chew through, allowing for faster expansion. Rotting or damaged wood is an ideal nesting site for carpenter ants. If you see carpenter ants inside during fall, they’re probably establishing a satellite colony in some wood inside your home.
Carpenter ants also prefer to inhabit areas with poor air circulation, access to soil and the outdoors, and condensation. During fall, carpenter ants want to nest in areas where they can keep warm. You’ll probably find them in your basement, attic, crawl space, foundation, roof, porch, or doors and windows. Wood chips, soft wooden baseboards and trim, and old siding may attract carpenter ants, too.
How can I keep them away?
Look for mold growth and decaying and/or damaged wood, particularly near the ground level. Pull out and replace any rotten siding, rip out old baseboards and trimming, and look for condensation buildup. Pay particular attention to the foundation, siding and trim in your basement. Keep a close eye out for wood damage and have it repaired as soon as you notice it.
If a pipe in your basement springs a leak, that water might get all over wood. Carpenter ants would love nothing better. Look for any plumbing leaks, especially in your attic and basement. Even if you don’t have leaks, check to make sure excess humidity isn’t creating condensation on pipes or walls. If it is, consider investing in a dehumidifier, or least check for drafts.
You should never underestimate carpenter ants, but you shouldn’t lose sleep over them either. Carpenter ants are like every other pest: they can be a pain, but they’re totally manageable, too.
If you need some help managing a carpenter ant problem this fall, give Griffin a call today. We’ll be able to tell you where the ants are, how they got there, why they want to be there, and how to get rid of them. A safer, more enjoyable winter is just one phone call away. Have a good October!