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Signs of Carpenter Ants in Your House

Ants can definitely annoying, especially when they get inside your house. These tiny bugs can cause a big nuisance, especially in warmer climates or in the summer months when they are extremely active.

Unfortunately, ants are a fact of life we have to live with. They make up 25 percent of all living creatures on the earth by weight. When you consider how little an individual ant weighs, you can imagine just how many of them there are!

That doesn’t mean you have to tolerate them in your home, and some ants are more than just a nuisance. Carpenter ants are a species that is native to North America, and one of the few ant species that can actually cause structural damage to your home.

Carpenter ants get their name from their habit of building nests in wood. Unlike termites, they don’t eat the wood. They carve holes in it where they can lay their eggs and build a colony. This nesting behavior can cause damage to the structure of your home as they dig long, vast tunnels through wood which weakens it.

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If left unchecked, this damage can be severe. Carpenter ants cause hundreds of millions of dollars of damage in the US each and every year.

Part of the trouble with carpenter ants is that they can be secretive. Often, they will excavate wood inside walls to build a nest where you can’t see it. Even when you start seeing ants inside your home, it can be difficult to find out where they are coming from.

And yet, treating the nest is by far the best way to deal with carpenter ants. While it’s possible to bait these ants, they often don’t take ant bait as readily as other ants species. Besides, you want to know where they have damaged your home so you can fix it if necessary.

Getting rid of carpenter ants usually comes down to finding their nest and destroying it, but first, you need to find out if you are actually dealing with a carpenter ant infestation.

Signs You Have a Carpenter Ant Infestation

Carpenter ants often forage hundreds of yards away from their main nest. It is not unusual to find an ant inside your home and finding one doesn’t necessarily mean that the creatures have built a nest indoors.

However, if you start to see large numbers of ants, it might be time to be more concerned. Let’s review some of the signs that you have a problem with Carpenter ants.

1. You Find a Carpenter Ant

Before you decide on a treatment, it’s important to be sure you know what kind of ant you’re dealing with. Fortunately, identifying a carpenter and can be relatively easy even for a nonspecialist.

The first thing people usually notice about carpenter ants is their size. These are the biggest ants in North America, and workers can be up to half an inch in length. They are typically black, though not always. In the Western half of North America, they often have reddish legs.

Like many other ant species, carpenter ants sometimes have wings. Most workers do not, but in spring and fall, carpenter ants swarm, and you may see winged ants at this time. The winged reproductives are even larger than the workers, up to five-eighths of an inch long.

Size is a good indication of a carpenter ant, but they are not always this big. Early in the year, or with young colonies, the ants may be smaller and closer in size to regular ants.

A good way to identify a carpenter ant from other species is to pick one up and take a look at it. When you look at a carpenter ant from the side, you’ll notice that its thorax – the middle segment of the body between the head and the abdomen – is evenly rounded across the top. This isn’t the case with most ant species, who tend to have an uneven, bumpy thorax.

You may also notice the large antennae that stick out at a very specific angle almost like horns.

2. You Find Flying Ants Indoors

As mentioned above, at certain times in the year, carpenter ants are capable of flight. This is how the colonies reproduce, and the winged ants are the reproductive members of the colony. It’s worth noting that a carpenter ant colony can only produce winged reproductives once it’s at least seven years of age.

Carpenter ants can fly a long way from the nest, especially if the wind takes them. Finding one or two flying ants in the house during spring or fall may not be a big deal.

If you find lots of winged ants inside, that’s a good indication that you have a mature colony somewhere in the house.

Flying ants are attracted to light, so you’ll often find them congregating around the windows. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where the nest is. They could be emerging somewhere else inside the house and making their way toward the window.

Carpenter ants are most active at night, so you may also find these ants swarming around a light inside your home when it’s dark outside.

If you find large numbers of winged reproductive carpenter ants in your house, you’ll need to go looking to find out where they’re coming from.

Another sign of winged carpenter ants is the presence of shed wings on windowsills and close to doors. After they mate, carpenter ants shed their wings, so you may find piles of the shed wings in areas that get a lot of light.

3. You Find Sawdust Piles

Another sign that you may have a carpenter ant problem is the presence of sawdust piles in places you haven’t been sawing. Because they don’t eat wood, the carpenter ants have to dump the wood they excavate outside the nest. They do this in small piles of very fine sawdust, also known as frass.

Sometimes, you may also find parts of dead insects mixed in with these piles of frass, since carpenter ants eat other insects and throw away the parts they can’t digest.

If you find a pile of frass with insect parts mixed in, you can be pretty sure there’s a carpenter ant nest close by. Look up – it could even be right above you!

4. Damage to Wood

The main reason carpenter ants come inside our homes is to build a nest inside the wood of our walls. Although water-damaged wood is easier for the carpenter ants to chew through, they have strong enough jaws to make a home even in sound wood. They excavate tunnels through the wood, also known as galleries.

If you find wood in your home that has galleries bored through it, that’s a good sign of Carpenter ant activity. Carpenter ant galleries are distinguishable from termite galleries by being very smooth, almost as though they have been sandpapered. Termites tend to bore tunnels more or less at random and leave them full of debris, including mud. Carpenter ants, on the other hand, build neat and well-structured tunnels that they keep free of debris.

Tips for Finding the Carpenter Ant Nest

Finding the nest is the key to carpenter ant control. However, it’s a task that is easier said than done. To give you the best chance of finding ants nesting in your home, it’s important to know a little bit about how a carpenter ant colony works.

Carpenter ant nests only have a single queen who is the only member of the colony capable of reproduction, apart from the winged ants. To lay her eggs, a carpenter ant queen needs a nest with high relative humidity.

Ordinarily, this means the queen will be nesting outside. However, it’s possible she could nest inside a house that had extensive water damage and lots of softwood for her to build a colony.

More typically, the nests inside people’s homes are what are known as satellite nests. The satellite nests can be as much as 100 yards away from the parent nest, which may be on a different property altogether.

Carpenter ants travel between the parent and the satellite nest, carrying food and larvae, which are born in the parent nest but often hatched out in the satellite nest. Satellite nests require warmer and drier conditions than the parent nest, which is why they are more often found inside our homes.

To really solve a carpenter ant problem, you’ll need to look both indoors and outdoors for satellite and parent nests. Since the nests can be far apart, you may need to consult with your neighbors, as they may also have nests of the same colony on their property.

It’s also important to take a look at night. Carpenter ants are most active from dusk till dawn, and activity is highest between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. You may be able to find a trail of ants making their way from the parent nest to the satellite nest inside your home.

Sometimes, the trail will be visible, since the ants will keep it clear of debris. More often, you’ll have to look for the ants themselves.

Don’t just check on the ground but remember to also look at electrical and telephone wires, tree branches, and anything else that touches your home. These can act as highways for traveling ants.

The Parent Nest

Because of their high humidity requirements, parent nests are most often located in rotten wood. Check tree stumps, fence posts, woodpiles, utility poles, and anywhere else that wood is exposed to the elements. If you see a lot of carpenter ants in these areas, it’s a good sign that a nest is close.

If you can treat the parent nest and kill the queen, you will solve your carpenter ant problem. The satellite nests can’t survive for long without the parent nest, so destroying it is key to long-term control. Once a nest has been located, you can treat it with an appropriately labeled pesticide that will penetrate the wood and kill the queen and her brood.

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The Satellite Nest

If you find a trail of ants going into your home, it’s a good sign there’s a satellite nest inside the structure. You can also look from inside. Knocking on your walls can help to identify hollow spots by their sound. You can even use a stethoscope to listen in to the wall.

Large carpenter ant nests make a rustling sound from the movement of the ants that can even be heard unaided if the nest is large enough.

Another way to find a satellite nest is to let the ants guide you to it. If you see an ant carrying food in its jaws, you can be confident it’s heading to either the satellite or the parent nest. Follow that ant, and it will show you where the nest is.

You can even trick the ants into showing you where they live by feeding them. Drop a mixture of honey and water or sugar water next to foraging ants. They will get a mouthful and head back to the nest to share it with their friends.

You can do the same thing with a cut-up cricket or mealworm too, since carpenter ants like to eat other insects. When you see an ant disappear into a hole in the wall, you know there’s a nest somewhere inside.

Indoor Carpenter Ant Kit
Active Ingredient: Varies

The Indoor Carpenter Ant Kit contains professional pest control products to control carpenter ants found inside structures. This kit has two baits containing different formulations and active ingredients to increase bait acceptance and efficacy.

Why DoMyOwn?DoMyOwn.com offers professional-grade insecticides to DIYers while ensuring proper storage of chemicals. Couple that with their impressive customer service and knowledgeable staff, it’s the #1 choice.

Getting rid of carpenter ants

Because they cause structural damage, carpenter ants are one of the most feared pests for homeowners. They are also annoyingly common. And if you have Carpenter ants building a nest in your home, you want to get rid of them as soon as possible.

Finding and treating the nest directly is the key to carpenter ant control. Follow these tips, and you should be able to track down the satellite nest and perhaps even the parent nest. It requires a little bit of detective work, but it’s the only effective way to ensure long-term control. Track down the carpenter ant nest and destroy these harmful creatures where they live.

Written by Wesley Wheeler

Wesley has over 10 years of residential and commercial pest control experience dealing with every kind of pest. He ran his own pest control company for 6 years and now shares his knowledge online.

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