Are Carpenter Ants Bad? Uncovering the Truth Behind These Tiny Intruders

Carpenter ants are large, dark insects often found in homes and gardens.

While they don’t consume wood like termites, they can cause damage by creating nests in damp or moisture-compromised wood, extending their tunnels into dry wood, and potentially leading to structural damage.

These ants typically nest in moisture-damaged wood, but sometimes find voids to occupy during the summer months.

Although large numbers of carpenter ants can be destructive, most often, they are more of a nuisance than a severe threat to structures.

Are Carpenter Ants Bad
Carpenter Ants

There are some key differences between carpenter ants and termites:

  • Carpenter ants do not consume wood; termites do.
  • Carpenter ants create nests in damp wood; termites can infest both damp and dry wood.
  • Carpenter ant tunnels are usually smooth and clean compared to rough and muddy termite tunnels.

Understanding Carpenter Ants

Carpenter Ant Identification

Carpenter ants are large dark insects, with workers reaching up to 12 mm (0.5 in) in length and queens up to 20 mm (~1 in) 1.

These ants typically have black or reddish bodies with the characteristic ant family features, such as a distinct head, thorax, abdomen connected by a narrow waist, and bent antennae2.

Carpenter ants belong to the Camponotus genus, with the most common species being Camponotus pennsylvanicus3.

Carpenter ant traits include:

  • Large size (up to 0.5 inches for workers, 1 inch for queens)
  • Black or reddish coloring
  • Bent antennae

Differences Between Carpenter Ants and Termites

Carpenter ants and termites are often mistaken for each other due to their shared habit of tunneling through the wood. However, they have distinct differences that can help in identification.

Carpenter AntsTermites
Black or reddish in colorWhitish or translucent
Elbowed antennaeStraight antennae
Narrow waist connecting thorax & abdomenBroad waist connecting thorax & abdomen
Large, dark-colored workers4Smaller, pale-colored workers5

Carpenter ants and termites differ in their nesting habits, as carpenter ants nest in damp or moisture-compromised wood6, while termites consume wood for sustenance7.

In summary, when identifying carpenter ants, you should look for the following features:

  • Large size
  • Black or reddish color
  • Bent antennae
  • Narrow waist between thorax and abdomen

By comparing their characteristics with termites, you can distinguish between these two wood-damaging insects easily.

Carpenter Ant Infestations and Damage

Signs of Carpenter Ant Infestation

  • Presence of worker ants: These ants come in different sizes, ranging from ¼ to ⅝ of an inch1.
  • Sawdust or frass: Fine wood shavings indicating carpenter ants excavating tunnels4.
  • Sounds: Faint rustling sounds within walls or damaged wood.

Examples of common infestation sites include moist or decaying wood, building materials weakened by moisture, and trees with dead limbs or branches2.

Damage Caused by Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants do not eat wood, instead, they create nests in wet or water-damaged wood, and sometimes even in voids such as tree cavities3.

Damaged wood caused by carpenter ants can weaken the structural integrity of buildings.

Damage TypeCarpenter AntsComparison
Wood DamageExcavate tunnels and galleries in moist wood2Termites eat wood
Structural ImpactWeaken the structural wood of buildings5Termites cause more damage
Nesting PreferencesWet or water-damaged wood3Termites prefer dry wood

To effectively prevent and control carpenter ant infestations, it is crucial to locate all nests and apply appropriate prevention measures5.

Locating and Treating Carpenter Ant Nests

Finding the Nest

Carpenter ants typically nest in trees and homes, often preferring decayed wood over sound wood. To locate their nests, observe worker ants as they forage for food and follow their paths1. Common areas to find nests include:

  • Hollow staircase railings
  • Inside wooden curtain rods
  • Logs, stumps, and hollow trees2

Using Baits and Insecticides

Carpenter ant baits and insecticides are common methods for treating infestations. Some options include:

  • Ant baits: These contain a mixture of sugar or honey and a toxic substance like borax3. Carpenter ants are attracted to the bait, consume it, and take it back to their nest, eventually killing the colony.
  • Insecticide dust: Products such as boric acid and diatomaceous earth can be applied to nests and entry points like windows and doors4. These substances are effective in killing ants while being less toxic to humans and pets.
InsecticideProsCons
Ant BaitsAttracts ants, effective in killing the colonyMay take longer to see full results
Insecticide DustLess toxic to humans and pets, kills antsMay require reapplication

Home Remedies and Natural Solutions

If you prefer a more natural approach to dealing with carpenter ants, consider these options:

  • Diatomaceous earth: A natural, non-toxic powder that can be applied to nests and around entry points5.
  • Essential oils: Some essential oils like peppermint and cinnamon may help repel carpenter ants6. Apply these to possible entry points or areas with ant activity.

In conclusion, it’s crucial to locate and treat carpenter ant nests to mitigate damage to your property. Effective methods include using baits, insecticides, and natural solutions.

Preventing Carpenter Ant Infestations

Keeping Your Home Clean and Organized

Carpenter ants can be attracted to the food sources in your home. To prevent infestations:

  • Store food in airtight containers
  • Clean up spills and crumbs
  • Keep garbage areas clean and sealed

By maintaining a clean environment, you reduce the chances of attracting ants to your property.

Managing Moisture and Leaks

Carpenter ants thrive in moist environments, so it’s crucial to control moisture in your home:

  • Fix any leaks in your plumbing
  • Ensure proper ventilation in damp areas
  • Regularly check your home’s foundation for water accumulation

Addressing moisture issues helps prevent not only carpenter ants but also other pests and potential structural damage.

Sealing Cracks in Your Home

Carpenter ants enter homes through tiny cracks and crevices. To keep them out:

  • Seal any cracks in the walls or foundation
  • Check window and door frames for gaps
  • Inspect your home’s framing for any entry points

Regularly inspecting and sealing potential entrance points will serve as a preventive measure against carpenter ant infestations.

A comparison of methods to prevent carpenter ant infestations:

MethodProsCons
Keeping your home cleanReduces food sources for antsMay require a consistent cleaning routine
Managing moisture and leaksPrevents ant-friendly environmentsCan be time-consuming to maintain
Sealing cracks in your homeBlocks ant entry pointsMight require professional assistance

Some common features of carpenter ant infestations include:

  • Presence of worker ants around your home
  • Small piles of wood shavings (indicating nesting activity)
  • Damaged wood structures

Characteristics of carpenter ants:

  • Black or red and black in color
  • Range in size from 3/8 to 1/2 inch long
  • Often found in moist or decaying wood
  • Feed on aphids’ honeydew and other insects

As you can see, there are several ways to prevent carpenter ant infestations in your home. By keeping your home clean and organized, managing moisture and leaks, and sealing cracks, you can effectively protect your property from these unwanted pests.

When to Call a Professional Exterminator

Extent of Damage

Carpenter ants can be a nuisance but are not always a serious threat to your home. However, when the damage is extensive, you should consider calling a professional exterminator. Signs of severe carpenter ant damage include:

  • Wood shavings: Consistent presence of wood shavings around your home
  • Hollow sounds: When tapping on wooden structures, they produce a hollow sound due to internal damage
  • Visible trails: Carpenter ants create trails as they forage for food

Infestation

It’s essential to determine the severity of the infestation before contacting a professional exterminator. Factors to consider include:

  • Ant population: Large numbers of ants indicate a bigger and more established colony
  • Multiple nests: Carpenter ants may have multiple satellite nests both indoors and outdoors
  • Perimeter treatments: Ineffective DIY treatments, such as perimeter sprays or baits, may warrant professional intervention

Pros of Hiring a Professional Exterminator:

  • Thorough inspection and accurate identification of all nests
  • Effective treatments that target the main nest and satellite colonies
  • Expert advice on prevention strategies

Cons of Hiring a Professional Exterminator:

  • Costlier than DIY treatments
  • May require multiple visits for eradication

Comparison Table

DIY TreatmentsProfessional Exterminator
Cost-effectiveMore expensive
Limited effectivenessTargeted and comprehensive treatments
Requires self-educationExpert guidance on prevention and control

In summary, when dealing with carpenter ants, it’s essential to evaluate the extent of damage and infestation.

If the problem persists after trying DIY treatments or if the damage is extensive, calling a professional exterminator is a wise decision.

They can provide targeted elimination strategies, thorough inspections, and expert advice on how to prevent future infestations.

File:Carpenter Ant (Formicidae, Camponotus sayi) (26593508533).jpg
Source: Insects Unlocked , CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Carpenter Ants and Their Impact on the Environment

Carpenter ants are large ants that typically build their nests in wood. They are known to cause damage to wooden structures, such as trees and houses.

However, they also play a crucial role in their natural habitat.

They aid in the decomposition of decaying trees, stumps, and plant matter, their activity can also have negative consequences.

As natural decomposers, they play a vital role in breaking down decaying wood, stumps, and fallen trees, aiding in the nutrient cycling process. This activity helps enrich the soil and creates a favorable environment for new plant growth.

Additionally, these ants serve as a food source for various predators, including birds, mammals, and other insects, contributing to the intricate web of life within ecosystems.

Furthermore, their foraging behavior helps disperse seeds, promoting plant diversity and regeneration.

Carpenter Ant Life Cycle and Diet

Life Stages of Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants go through several stages in their life cycle, including:

  • Eggs: The queen lays small, oval-shaped eggs.
  • Larvae: After hatching, small worm-like larvae emerge, depending on the queen and workers for food.
  • Pupae: Larvae transform into pupae and develop into adult ants within a protective cocoon.
  • Adults: Finally, fully-formed worker or winged carpenter ants emerge from the pupae stage.

Carpenter ants have diverse diets, consuming a range of food sources. Their diet includes:

  • Sweets: They are fond of sugary substances, often seeking out honeydew produced by aphids.
  • Protein and meat: Carpenter ants are known to eat insects, dead or alive, as a major part of their diet.
  • Others: They also eat products commonly consumed by humans, with a preference for proteins and fats.

Though they have a varied diet, carpenter ants do not actually consume wood – they use it for nesting, excavating tunnels and galleries in moist wood. Instead of eating wood, they produce fine dust (frass) as they excavate.

Here’s a comparison table of carpenter ants and termites, another wood-damaging insect:

Carpenter AntsTermites
Do not consume woodEat wood for nourishment
Produce frass (fine dust)Produce small, pellet-shaped fecal matter
Typically nest in moist, decaying woodCan live within both moist and dry wood structures

Carpenter ants are essential in decomposing dead, decaying trees in their natural habitat, which helps prevent the spread of disease and maintains the overall health of a forest ecosystem.

However, their presence in human structures can cause significant damage, making them a concerning pest for property owners.

A study from Cornell University indicates that carpenter ants can establish multiple satellite colonies around a parent colony.

This causes the population to grow and potentially inflict more harm on the surroundings area, including wooden structures such as houses, sheds, and lumber piles.

Ants
Carpenter Ants

Conclusion

Carpenter ants are large insects that can cause damage by nesting in damp wood. While they don’t eat wood like termites, their presence can lead to structural damage.

Distinguishing features of carpenter ants include their size, color, bent antennae, and nesting preferences.

To prevent infestations, keep your home clean, manage moisture, and seal cracks. If the infestation is severe, consider hiring a professional exterminator.

Despite being pests, carpenter ants play a role in decomposing dead wood in their natural habitat, contributing to ecosystem health.

Footnotes

  1. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/carpenter-ant.htm) 2 3

  2. (https://www.nps.gov/articles/carpenter-ant.htm) 2 3 4

  3. (https://extension.psu.edu/carpenter-ants) 2 3 4

  4. (https://extension.psu.edu/carpenter-ants) 2 3

  5. (https://extension.umd.edu/resource/carpenter-ants) 2 3 4

  6. (https://extension.umd.edu/resource/carpenter-ants) 2

  7. (https://hortnews.extension.iastate.edu/carpenter-ants-trees)

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Carpenter Ants Swarming

 

Subject: queen ants? Location: grand rapids, mi May 30, 2014 10:45 pm The past few days we’ve been seeing these things all over after sundown. They look like carpenter ants but are more than twice the size of the carpenter ants we see during the day. Some have wings, some don’t. They have a ring of fine hairs around their bottoms, a single node, etc. But if they are queens then why are there so many? And why would we only see them at night? Signature: dave
Carpenter Ant
Carpenter Ant
Hi Dave, We agree that this is a Carpenter Ant and you can compare your individual to this Alate in the genus Camponotus that is pictured on BugGuide.  Winged swarming ants are known as alates, and they are produced in quantity by an old colony.  Once a virgin queen mates, she will loose the wings and begin a new colony.  One reason so many are produced by a single colony is that many fall prey to predators, like the image of what appears to be a Cobweb Spider in the family Theridiidae feeding on a winged alate Carpenter Ant.  According to BugGuide:  “Mating flights of the majority of species occur late April-May,” however, the time of day of the flights is not listed.
Carpenter Ant Alate eaten by Spider
Carpenter Ant Alate eaten by Cobweb Spider

Letter 2 – Carpenter Ant Queen

 

Subject: I cAN’T identify this insect. Location: Whittier California April 8, 2017 9:27 pm Found this guy on my porch. Never seen anything quite like it in this part of Southern California. I’m currently working on a few non local bonsai and was thinking he came along for the ride. Any info would help. Thanks. Signature: Jay Miles
Ant
Dear Jay, This is certainly an Ant.  How large is it?  Was it alone?

Letter 3 – Carpenter Ant Alates

 

Subject: looks like an ant/wasp??? Location: Inverness, FL April 10, 2015 7:34 am I live in Inverness, FL. I just started noticing these bugs in the last few days. They are everywhere. I just went to the gas station and they were covering the pumps and the awning over the pumps. Then I came home and they are all over the outside of my house and under the roof overhang. What are they? Do they bite or sting? There were hundreds of them at the gas station. There are so many that it reminds me of when the love bugs swarm twice a year. Thank you! Signature: concerned mom
Ant Alate
Female Carpenter Ant Alate
Dear concerned mom, These are winged, reproductive Ants, known as Alates.  It appears that you have submitted images of both a male and a female Carpenter Ant Alate.  The individual with the longer, thinner antennae is a male, which we matched to this image on BugGuide of a male Red Carpenter Ant, Camponotus castaneus.  When conditions are right, Ants from the same species will mate at approximately the same time, helping to ensure that there is some crossing between different colonies which diversifies the gene pool.  We cannot state with certainty the species, but we are rather confident we have the genus Camponotus correct.  Though a bite may occur if they are carelessly handled, these Carpenter Ants are not considered to be dangerous.
Male Carpenter Ant Alate
Male Carpenter Ant Alate

Letter 4 – Carpenter Ant: Major Worker

 

AZ ant Location: Tortilla Creek, Superstition Mtns, AZ December 26, 2010 1:06 am I photographed this ant on 12-25-2010 in the Superstition Mtns (~2,500’). I could not identify it in the Kaufman insect guide, so I bow in your general direction if you can make an identification. Signature: Pat Livecchi
Major Worker Carpenter Ant
Hi Pat, Your ant looks very much like several images of Carpenter Ants posted to BugGuide, including this image of Camponotus nearcticus from Texas, however, we are reluctant to try to provide an actual species or even subgenus identification.  According to BugGuide, Ants in the genus Camponotus “are often called ‘carpenter ants’ because many species nest in dry or moist rotten wood, and some may nest in wooden houses, sheds, etc. However, in the East, C. americanus and C. castaneus nest in soil, and in the West, perhaps the majority of species (but usually not those in the subgenera Camponotus and Myrmentoma) nest in soil.”  These large headed individuals belong to the caste of major workers according to a comment posted on BugGuide.  The University of Missouri Extension website has a nice diagram of the various castes of Carpenter Ants.

Letter 5 – Carpenter Ant Queen sheds wings

 

Subject:  Ant Queen Shedding Her Wings Geographic location of the bug:  Missouri, USA Date: 06/05/2019 Time: 08:17 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  I’ve seen plenty of queens but never found one in the process of leaving her wings behind! I thought you might like to see. sadly my video didn’t turn out well, but I got these pictures of her that aren’t too bad. (my camera isn’t made for macro, sorry!) How you want your letter signed:  Michael
Carpenter Ant Queen
Dear Michael, Thanks so much for sending your image of a female Carpenter Ant shedding her wings.  

Letter 6 – Carpenter Ants?

 

Nocturnal Ants
In my kitchen, at night, large ant looking bugs scurry about when the light is turned on. They are not too shy and do not act like nornal ants. They seem independent of each other and more intellegent than regular ants. Please can you help me identify this bug and how do I rid my home of them? Thank you,
Dana



Hi Dana,
Carpenter Ants of the genus Camponotus are the largest ants in our part of the world. The largest species, C. herculeanus pennsylvanicus is a large black ant. There are several smaller species that are red and black like your photo, including C. vicinus, C. semites taceus, and C. clarithorax. They build their nests in wood, often inhabiting preexisting termite galleries, and often burrow into rotten wood.

Letter 7 – Carpenter Ants

 

Subject:  What kind of bug is this? Geographic location of the bug:  Southwest PA Date: 09/14/2017 Time: 10:31 PM EDT I recently bought a home and discovered the bugs I uploaded in the picture. I am not sure, but I have been told they are termites or possibly ants? Can you take a look and confirm? It is greatly appreciated! How you want your letter signed:  JAF
Carpenter Ants
Dear JAF, These are Carpenter Ants, not Termites.  If it is any consolation to your, according to BugGuide:  “Omnivorous – eat honeydew, sap, living and dead insects, etc. Do not eat wood, only nest in it, and usually only after fungi have softened it.”

Letter 8 – Carpenter Ants

 

AntsSubject:  Big Ants Geographic location of the bug:  New Mexico Date: 04/10/2018 Time: 02:03 PM EDT Your letter to the bugman:  I discovered these large ants under a  paver where they had their nursery in the front yard. I haven’t seen them anywhere else. I was wondering if they were some sort of harvester ant? How you want your letter signed:  Thanks, Karen
Carpenter Ants
Dear Karen, These are Carpenter Ants in the genus Camponotus, and the individuals with the big heads are the major workers, but we are not certain of the species.  Here is a BugGuide image of a major worker of Camponotus sansabeanus and here is a BugGuide image of another major worker from a different species.  Here is another BugGuide image of a group of Carpenter Ants from New Mexico that are not identified to the species level.  Ant colonies often have numerous castes and here is an explanation from AntArk:  “Soldier ants are also known as major workers or big heads. They are only present among certain ant species that are ‘polymorphic’.  These sterile female ants are larger and stronger than typical workers. They protect their colony from large predators and use their strength and large jaws or mandibles  to cut and carry … larger objects.  In harvester ant species, the soldiers use their strength to crack open hard seeds.  In leaf cutter ant species, the soldiers cut through the thicker plants so that the minor workers can carry the clippings back to their nest.  Some species have median workers that are sized between minor and major workers.”  Carpenter Ants do not eat wood, and according to BugGuide:  “Camponotus species are often called ‘carpenter ants’ because many species nest in dry or moist rotten wood, and some may nest in wooden houses, sheds, etc. However, in the East, C. americanus and C. castaneus nest in soil, and in the West, numerous species (except most in the subgenera Camponotus and Myrmentoma) nest in soil.”  In our opinion, the colony you uncovered does not pose a threat to you or your home.  Though we do not endorse extermination, the Orkin site has some good information as well, including “A typical parent colony contains a queen, the queen’s brood and workers, both minor and major. The size of worker ants determines their responsibilities. Minor workers are the smallest members of the colony, and their tasks are to take care of the young and forage for food. Major workers are larger and serve as soldiers to defend against predators.”  Your image illustrates two different castes of workers. A Reader Comments:   “I’m sure you’ve heard about this by now. In this posting, “Carpenter Ants, On April 12, 2018 · Category: Ants · Add Comment”, this phrase appeared. “They protect their colony from large predators and use their strength and large jaws or mandibles  to cut and carry buy generic tramadol online larger objects.” I had to read the line 3 or 4 times before it sunk in. I just kept thinking, “What does that say? What’s wrong with this?”! Hard to believe this can happen to a website!!! Take care, have a good one! Cathy” Ed. Note:  Thanks to Cathy for bringing that to our attention. I discovered more things about the “Tramadol” line, and now I’m more confused than ever. I went and copied the article and pasted it to Word Pad. The phrase showed up. Then I got the ant website e-mail and was going to tell them about it. When I copied and pasted the article to send to them on my g-mail, nothing showed! I scrapped the e-mail and started to worry what my computer may have caught. I ran Avast and Malwarebytes, and neither found anything! I saw you were able to delete the phrase. Probably always going to be a mystery, and apparently, no harm, no foul. Hope all is well on your end. Thanks, Cathy We are very happy you contacted us Cathy.  When the AntArk quote was originally read on their site, the ghost link did not appear and Daniel did not review the pasted text, though he did delete all links, so he suspects though the active link was deleted, the url information somehow remained and showed as the strange Tramadol citation.

Letter 9 – Carpenter Ants, we believe

 

Unidentified ant Location: Napa, CA, USA April 6, 2011 9:36 pm Hello, These little buggers live (I think) in a dying Oak tree in the front of my yard and are very busy along their trails into my house. I live in Napa, California and it is early spring. Any idea what type of ant they are? Signature: J. A. Reif
possibly Carpenter Ants
Dear J.A., We believe, because of their large size and their location in the tree that these are most likely Carpenter Ants in the genus Camponotus, though we do not have the necessary skills to identify them based on their anatomy.  They somewhat resemble this photo of Camponotus clarithorax from California posted on BugGuide.  General information on Carpenter Ants can be found on the information page for the genus on BugGuide.
Carpenter Ants, we believe

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

4 thoughts on “Are Carpenter Ants Bad? Uncovering the Truth Behind These Tiny Intruders”

  1. I recently served captive-reared carpenter ants to the entomology club at UFL. These ants are quite tasty; they’ve got a strong flavor — very tangy, like citrus juice but earthier and slightly bitter.

    They would serve well in a soup, alongside lots of other ingredients. The point here is that they are robust enough to stand up to the competition of other flavors.

    Best,
    Dave

    http://www.smallstockfoods.com

    Reply
  2. Hi,
    I believe that this is not an Argentine Ant. This is a Camponotus (or Carpenter Ant) queen, probably mated.
    Argentine ant queens have small heads and slightly resemble Paratrechina Longicornis queens.

    Reply
  3. Hi,
    I believe that this is not an Argentine Ant. This is a Camponotus (or Carpenter Ant) queen, probably mated.
    Argentine ant queens have small heads and slightly resemble Paratrechina Longicornis queens.

    Reply

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