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Carpenter Ant Nest

Summary: We can live with a nearby carpenter ant nest as long as the carpenter ants respect the boundaries of our homes.

If you've noticed a small pile of sawdust (wood debris) in your yard, around your firewood pile or a dead tree stump, chances are that you may have carpenter ants as neighbors.

A carpenter ant nest begins the same way as many other ant species-with one fertilized carpenter ant queen. Depending upon the climate, winged carpenter ants (called swarmers) emerge from their colony, usually between March and July, with males and females swarming in a mating ritual. During this phase, a new carpenter queen becomes fertilized, sheds her wings, and begins the immense task of creating her own ant colony. Instead of following her, the winged male dies having served his noble purpose.

First to be hatched from the carpenter ant queen's eggs are the worker ants. Foraging for food, nest excavation, and caring for any new ants, (and let's not forget tending to the queen)-it's all in their job description. Although it grows very slowly, a carpenter ant nest can contain 2,000-3,000 workers after 3-6 years. At this point, the colony begins to produce swarmers and the cycle begins all over again.

A part of carpenter ant nest expansion includes connective satellite colonies with roadways used by the worker ants. Older carpenter worker ants move into these satellite colonies, but lacking a queen, eggs or the responsibility of young larvae. Most structural ant invasions are attributed to these satellite colonies.

The reason carpenter ant identification is often difficult is because the carpenter worker is like many polymorphic ants. This means that they can vary in size and color within the same colony. One of the largest ant species, a carpenter queen is usually 3/4 inch long and workers can be anywhere from 1/4 to 1/2 inches long in color shades of black or reddish black.

Sometimes swarming carpenter ants are confused with termites sending homeowners into a panic with dollar signs for exterminators flashing before their eyes. While it is true that they can cause structural wood damage, they do not eat wood as termites do. Instead, they use these wood pieces to expand the colony.

Unfortunately, carpenter ants will colonize within a home under certain conditions. Look for them around any areas with wood and moisture, attic areas, flat roofs, insulation, hollow doors, window or door casings, voids between walls or under kitchen or bathroom cabinets. Carpenter ant food preferences motivate them to invade homes seeking sugar (their favorite), fats and protein sources. Standing water, like pet water dishes, dripping faucets, even air conditioner drain lines are other attractions.

Resist the urge to panic if you find a caravan of foraging carpenter ants going up your kitchen wall. Yes, you can grab a chemical spray and kill the ones you see on contact. (Always read the label first to be sure the spray is recommended for indoor use.) However, this will not solve your problem if you do have a carpenter ant infestation inside your home.

A better idea is to follow their trail and determine exactly where they have colonized. It may turn out that your carpenter ants are only visiting your home, not moving in. Try this to find out. Put small amounts of honey mixed with water on bottle caps and place them where there's ant movement. Follow them as they carry the food back to their colony. If you determine that the ants are moving away from your home to a colony close by, you can decide if you want to destroy the colony with a chemical treatment, or try any of the green, environmentally friendly approaches available. Then again, you may decide to leave them alone.

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