Understanding Carpenter Ants: How Much Damage Can They Actually Do?

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Carpenter ants exist in a sort of in-between space as far as common insects go. Are they as harmless as most ants? No, they’re not totally harmless. Do they have the same kind of destructive potential as other wood-eating insects like termites? Well no, they aren’t exactly that either. Sitting somewhere in this murky halfway point can make carpenter ants seem kind of...mysterious. If you see a carpenter ant on your back deck or front porch, how worried should you be? How can you tell if it’s even a carpenter ant? We have some answers. 


Carpenter Ant Behavior 


Carpenter ants- like other ants- live in colonies numbering in the thousands, controlled by their queen. New colonies take anywhere between three and six years to fully mature and produce the 200-400 swarmers yearly that are consistent with a healthy, functioning colony. These 200-400 swarmer carpenter ants are male and will swarm during the spring to search for a female mate to reproduce with – which is why most carpenter ant activity is visible and reported in the springtime. 

Carpenter ant queens are picky when finding the best place to start their colony, and prefer to nest in moist or partially decayed wood. Although carpenter ants do not eat wood like their termite counterparts, they burrow into moist or decaying wood because it is safe, often moisture-rich, and is easier to tunnel through than sturdy wood –  which is a simpler environment for them to create the network of tunnels that they call home. This desire for moist or decayed wood is what can make your home a target. According to Rutgers entomologists, common places that carpenter ants nest in homes include: 


  • Hollow porch posts
  • Wood siding
  • Floor joists
  • Doors
  • Window frames
  • Voids in the ceiling of porches and breezeways
  • Wood in contact with soil
  • Wood that has become moist due to faulty plumbing


Fun fact: Although carpenter ants are capable of chewing through wood, they only bite humans in extremely rare cases, and their bites cause no real harm. 


Carpenter Ant Identification  

Carpenter ant close up











Carpenter ants have a few distinguishing characteristics that make them look considerably different from, say a termite: 

  • Black or red in color, or a combination of the two 
  • ½” to ⅝” long (big for an ant) 
  • Rounded thorax and heart-shaped head
  • Sometimes winged 
  • Pinched waists
  • Can usually be found on or around wood structure


How Much Damage Can Carpenter Ants Actually Do? 


While carpenter ants aren’t the absolute homewrecker that termites can be, they are still no laughing matter when it comes to structural damage. If carpenter ant colonies are left to grow over a period of years, they will continually expand their colonies – and that colony expansion means the continuing hollowing out of a wood structure. This is compounded by the potential of carpenter ants surviving over winter. When temperatures drop carpenter ants don’t just die; instead, they enter a sort of hibernation state called diapause, in which they drastically reduce their activity in order to survive the cold months. 


What does this mean for you? It means that ignoring a carpenter ant problem is not a solution – when the weather warms back up the carpenter ant colony will quickly reawaken and become active again, slowly but steadily hollowing out whatever structure they are colonizing. Over time, this hollowing out can cause enough damage to a structure to cause collapse. On top of ALL of that, here’s a harrowing thought: remember those swarmers we talked about earlier? Those 200-400 swarmers leave the colony to look for a mate; once the female carpenter ant is impregnated she goes out looking for somewhere to start her OWN colony. What better place to start your own colony than nearby? To boil it down, one carpenter ant colony can, if left untreated, lead to many more colonies – and that can mean damage to multiple structures. 


Preventing Carpenter Ants 


Now that we’ve learned all about carpenter ants and the damage that they do, what can you do to prevent them? Well, carpenter ants are largely attracted to homes by three things: 


  1. Moist or damaged wood 
  2. Other water sources 
  3. Food sources 

Keeping a careful eye on the rot and moisture status of the wood structures attached to your home and around your property is a good way to make your property less enticing to carpenter ants. But that’s still no guarantee – carpenter ants are also attracted to the things that other ants are, namely wet indoor environments and food. They congregate near air-conditioning units, dishwashers, sinks, and bathtubs, and are drawn into homes by foods like sweets, eggs, meats, cakes, and grease according to PestWorld.  That means that you need to close off even the teeny tiniest hole or crack in your home to keep carpenter ants out: otherwise, carpenter ants can sneak right in. 


A local pest control company can help you fortify your home from carpenter ants and other common insects with preventative exclusion services that help to keep insects out. 


Getting Rid of Carpenter Ants 


The process of getting rid of carpenter ants involves baiting, scent trail elimination, and careful nest destruction. While someone with experience controlling insects might be able to take this job on by themselves, ensuring your carpenter ant problem doesn’t resurface requires repeat treatments and an expert's eye – which is why usually, it makes the most sense to call in the professionals. Thomas Pest Services’ carpenter ant control services can help with that. Through inspection, treatment, and ongoing maintenance, we have the experience and expertise to get rid of your carpenter ant problem and make sure it stays gone. 

Need a hand getting rid of or preventing carpenter ants? Just get in touch with us and we’ll work with you to find the best solution to make sure carpenter ants get gone and stay gone!

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