Carpenter ants get their name from the fact that they create their colonies by excavating space in damp or damaged wood. This isn’t a huge problem if they’re nesting in a tree stump in the middle of the woods, but it becomes a big challenge when their nest of choice is in your cottage rafters.
Carpenter ants have powerful jaws that literally chew wood and spit it out —and although they work slowly, they can cause significant structural damage if allowed to establish a colony without intervention.
If you suspect you’ve got an infestation — especially if you see large or winged carpenter ants around — call a pest control professional as soon as possible. Putting aside the issue of property damage, though, carpenter ants are pretty fascinating. Here are some facts you may not know.
Carpenter ants are big
With worker ants measuring between 6.5 and 13 mm, carpenter ants are some of the largest in North America. Winged female carpenter ants are even bigger, measuring between 20 and 25 mm. Along with their length, carpenter ants also have large mandibles, or jaws — all the better for chomping on nice damp wood.
They come in a variety of colours
Carpenter ants are generally black, but, depending on the species, they can also be red, yellow, dark brown, light brown, or even orange. Some ants are even red and black.
Damp or damaged wood leads carpenter ants to solid wood
Carpenter ants often get into a house by chewing through exterior wood, like that around windows, decks, roof eaves, or porches. From there, they nibble their way inside, working through your solid wood, causing extensive damage if they’re not dealt with.
Carpenter ants leave clues that they’re living in your wood
Actually seeing ants is a likely sign that you’ve got carpenter ants — and if you see winged ants, also known as “swarmers,” that’s a pretty good indication that the colony is well established. This is problematic when you consider most colonies are populated with 2,000 to 3,000 worker ants. You may also see debris — ants clean up as they go along, leaving piles of wood shavings mixed with dead ant parts in piles on the ground. Finally, you may hear a rustling in your wood, created by the ants going about their wood-munching business.
They’re social animals
Established colonies can contain thousands of wingless worker ants—the ones who find food for the colony — but generally only have one wingless queen, who lays eggs. When a colony is established, winged male and female “swarmers” appear and begin to mate, forming new colonies. A queen can live up to 25 years, laying thousands of fertilized eggs over that time.
They’re predators, but they’ll also eat dog food
Carpenter ants don’t eat the wood they excavate — instead, they truck it out of the nest and leave it in piles on the ground. Carpenter ants will eat other insects (alive or dead), as well as plant nectar, sugary liquids like honey, syrup, or jelly, and meat, grease, and fat. Be careful to clean up any greasy or sticky spills in your kitchen, and get your pet’s food off the ground. A worker ant will forage for food up to 100 metres from their nest.
They don’t sting but they can bite
Carpenter ants don’t have stingers, but they do have strong jaws — and while these are mostly used for chewing through wood, they can bite. Along with biting, they also inject the wound with formic acid, which burns skin. Some species even explode. Carpenter ant bites are rare, though, and reactions to them tend to be mild.
They’re really, really strong
Carpenter ants can lift between seven and 50 times their own weight, depending on what study you read. If we were carpenter ants, we’d be able to move a car with our teeth.
Carpenter ants go dormant in the winter — unless they’re close to heat
In the wild, carpenter ants hibernate in their nests during the winter. However, if there’s a colony indoors that’s close to a heat source — like direct sunlight or heated air from the furnace — it may receive enough heat to stay active during the winter. Seeing carpenter ants indoors in the winter is a pretty clear indicator of an infestation.