Carpenter ants are often mistaken for termites due to their similar appearance and wood-damaging behavior.
However, unlike termites, carpenter ants do not actually eat wood; instead, they excavate it to build their nests.
Knowing whether carpenter ants can fly is essential in identifying and managing them in case of an infestation.
Yes, certain carpenter ants can fly. In fact, flying reproductives or swarmers, which include males and females, have wings and take part in a nuptial flight during mating season, usually in late spring and early summer.
After mating, the surviving queens shed their wings to search for a new nest site. This information helps homeowners and professionals identify and address carpenter ant problems in a timely manner.
Understanding Carpenter Ants
Biology and Identification
Carpenter ants are large dark insects that can sometimes become a problem in homes and structures.
These ants are known to create nests in damp or moisture-compromised wood, causing notable damage by tunneling through the wood to build their nests1.
- Bent antennae
- Large size
- Dark color
Carpenter ants do not actually eat wood but rather chew through it and discard the sawdust-like material called frass2.
Carpenter Ants vs. Termites
Carpenter ants and termites can both cause damage to wood, but their behaviors and appearance differ significantly.
|Antennae||Straight, slightly bent||Beaded and bent|
|Body Segments||3 distinct body regions||2 distinct body regions|
|Wings||Two sets of different lengths||Two sets of equal length|
|Eating habits||Do not eat wood||Eat and digest wood|
Apart from this, alates of carpenter ants have two pairs of wings, with the front pair being longer than the hind pair.
This is a distinguishing feature from termite alates, which have two pairs of equal-length wings.
Color and Size
Carpenter ants can have black, tan, brown or reddish bodies and vary in size, depending on the species3.
- Worker ants: up to 12 mm (0.5 in)
- Queen ants: up to 20 mm (~1 in)
Their size and distinctive characteristics make them easy to distinguish compared to other ants and insects3.
Distinguishing Carpenter Ants From Other Ant Species
Identifying Winged Carpenter Ants
Winged carpenter ants, specifically belonging to the Camponotus genus, are commonly found in forests and can cause pest problems in homes by building nests in wooden structures.
Here are some key features that help identify winged carpenter ants:
- Elbowed antennae
- A pinched waist
- Two nodes in the petiole (constricted area between the thorax and abdomen)
Winged carpenter ants produce a rustling sound (while eating through the wood), which can be helpful in identifying them.
These ants usually appear during the late spring and early summer months.
In conclusion, this article sheds light on the intriguing aspects of carpenter ants, particularly focusing on their ability to fly and the significance of winged alates.
We’ve explored their nesting habits, the damages they can inflict, and the vital differences between them and other ants and termites.
Understanding the lifecycle of carpenter ants, especially the role of alates, is crucial for the effective identification and management of infestations, ensuring the preservation of our homes and wooden structures.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about carpenter ants. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Florida Carpenter Ant Alates
Huge Ants Taking Over My House
Location: South Florida
August 5, 2010 11:28 am
To What’s That Bug?,
I live in South Florida, and for the past few days, my house has been home for some humongous ants. At first, it was just the usual ”ewe…look at this huge bug!” (squishes ant with flipflop). But now, I see about 5 or 6 of these monstrous ants daily, especially in the early morning and night.
These bugs look like very large queen ants, measuring from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch long. They have reddish black heads and torsos, but the abdomen is dark black and quite large.
All of these bugs that I’ve encountered have cellophane-like wings and big ”pinchers”. I want to get to the bottom of these pests, so I don’t have to worry about them crawling over me when I sleep. HELP!!!
It appears as though you have Florida Carpenter Ant alates, the winged reproductive form that swarms and begins a new colony.
There may be a Florida Carpenter Ant colony somewhere in your home, and the presence of the alates over the past few days will eventually cease until the next swarming season. You can find out more about the Florida Carpenter Ants, Camponotus floridanus, on BugGuide.
Letter 2 – Winged Carpenter Ants we believe
Large ants, but what kind??
Location: Miami FL
December 20, 2010 11:54 am
We have had a few 10mmish ants running around our Miami Florida home lately. They are fairly distinctive because they are mostly light brown with stripes on their their abdomen.
BUT last night there were tonnes of them, along with the larger and slightly darker winged-form too. These ones are about 13mm long. My picture is poor, but they look very similar in head shape to the kinds of ants I grew up watching in Ontario, Canada.
Roundish head, thin thorax, striped abdomen. Antenna are about 7-8 mm long total, and without a scope it looks like 2 segments one of 4 or 5 and the other 3mm. I would love to learn roughly what kind of ant this is, if possible.
Signature: Much thanks, sue gallo
Because of their large size, we believe these are Carpenter Ants in the genus Camponotus. They are winged reproductive alates. You can read more about Carpenter Ants on BugGuide. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to provide a species identification.
Letter 3 – Flying Carpenter Ant
Insect on high rise window
Location: Chicago, IL
May 4, 2012 3:57 pm
This insect was on my window 20 floors up in downtown chicago. The picture was taken in early May. Some sort of wasp I presume…
Signature: Chicago window
Dear Chicago window,
Since Ants are closely related to wasps, your identification is not too far afield. This is a flying Eastern Carpenter Ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus, and you can compare your photo to this image on BugGuide.
Flying Ants are the reproductive members of the colony and they are known as alates. They swarm when conditions are right and after mating, a fertile queen will begin a new colony.
Letter 4 – Eastern Black Carpenter Ant
Subject: Large Ant
Location: Stow, Ohio
June 9, 2017 11:10 am
Found this guy snooping around the house today. 6/917
This is an Eastern Black Carpenter Ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus. According to BugGuide, the habitat is “Broadleaf and mixed forests (both floodplain and upland), woodlands, tree-studded parks, cemeteries, and lawns.
The nest is in dead, usually already rotten wood. Occasionally nest in wooden buildings, typically where wet or dry rot has softened the wood. Probably increasing in numbers and distribution in the West due to extensive tree planting in the Plains.”
Letter 5 – Flying Carpenter Ant: Swarming in Home
Bug infestation in living room
February 3, 2010
These bugs have started showing up about 2-3 weeks ago maybe 10-20 a day. Recently there have been 100 a day maybe. At the start they all seemed to die within the same day of showing up (by themselves no pesticide used) and have never reached any other rooms.
But now they have gotten to the front door entry way and into the basement. I sweep them all up everyday but they never seem to stop multiplying.
The bug look like flying ants but I have never seen one fly even though they have wings. They are maybe 1 cm long not very big at all.
I think they are coming out of the baseboards against a wall against the dinner room area, which is a split leveled wall (so only about 3 feet high). I have never seen these in my house before after living here for 5-6 years.
Southern Ontario, Canada
We agree that this appears to be a flying ant, more specifically, a Carpenter Ant. We suspect you have a colony in the baseboards. The colony does not produce reproductive flying kings and queens until it has matured, and we suspect that after six years in the home with your growing colony, it has matured to the point that the colony has finally produced a reproductive swarm. Compare your image to the higher resolution images posted to BugGuide.
Letter 6 – Mutilated Carpenter Ant, we believe
Texas woods insect
Location: River Legacy Park, between Dallas and Fort Worth, TX
January 14, 2011 11:42 pm
I found this insect clinging to a tree as I wondered through a wooded park in Arlington Texas. It’s a fairly moist area, with elms, oaks, willows, pines, and cottonwoods, and an assortment of low growing brush and vines.
Unfortunately this guy looked like he’d been dead a while and has possibly been decapitated.
The body is almost beetle like, but the long protrusions/legs on the back end have me stumped. If that is the back end.
The body was around .75” long, with legs 1.5”. Wish now I’d collected it. 😛
Thanks! Hope to hear from you guys.
Signature: The Little Katydid That Could
We are in agreement with you that this image does not represent a complete insect, but we disagree with you that it has been decapitated. At first we were confused, as were you, regarding the front of the creature, but we now believe that this is a mutilated Carpenter Ant with a missing abdomen.
In most insects, the abdomen contains the most nutritional value, and predators will often feed on the abdomen of the prey leaving behind the harder head, thorax and extremities. Think of eating a lobster.
It is all about the tail. We are linking to an image of a Carpenter Ant on BugGuide that you may use as a comparison. What you have mistaken for legs on the back end would seem to be the antennae on the head.
OH! Now that you say that I can see it. 🙂 Good grief, that sucker was huge. Thanks, Daniel!
Letter 7 – Probably Carpenter Ant
Dear Mr Bugman,
Thanks for helping me identify a few Bugs. I am quite impressed with your collection of photographs. You have helped me acquire quite a bit of knowledge, Thank you! Hopefully you may be able to use these Ant Photo’s I’ve included. Maybe they will help someone else along the way.
These ants were almost a half inch long, in southwestern Colorado, close to Ridgway. Elevation about 8200 ft. Late August. Carpenter Ants? I’m also glad that I’m not alone in the bug lovin’ world. Afterall they don’t eat much. Some think I’m nuts, as I’ve reared a few spiders .
Orb Weavers and Widows. Rather fascinating and contrasting web construction. Both very strong silk. I would love to help you add to your collection of photos. If your so inclined. Thanks again!
All the Best with Kindest regards,
Spring Valley, Ca
Thanks for the nice letter. We are proud of our photo collection, but have to give all the credit to our readership. Now, regarding your ant identification. First the discaimer: We find it very difficult to possitively identify ants.
That said, we believe we found a match by turning to BugGuide. This could be the genus Camponotus. We will post and drop Eric Eaton a line to get a confirmation.
Letter 8 – Western Black Carpenter Ant with Spider
Subject: Big ant with provision for winter
Geographic location of the bug: Tonasket WA
Time: 10:56 AM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: Amazing how much ants can carry. And I suspect this was light for it! Do ants paralyze their quarry, or would this one be dead? I feel bad about the spider, but grateful the ants get to eat.
How you want your letter signed: Cathy
Do not eat wood, only nest in it, and usually only after fungi have softened it.” That said, the curl to the Spider’s legs indicates it was probably dead before the Western Black Carpenter Ant discovered it.
Letter 9 – What’s That Ant??? Possibly a Carpenter Ant
Location: Pasadena CA
April 6, 2014 10:07 pm
Hello, About a few hours ago I found what looks like an ant in my kitchen. I am writing to you because this possible ant is the biggest one I have ever seen around these parts. Normally We see the tiny black ants & out in lots we see red ants, but like I said, this one is much larger than any I have seen before.
It is about half an inch long, and about a quarter of an inch tall. It is a dark brown, almost black ant with Honey (lighter) colored legs. It has a light rectangle patch on its back (Thorax?). Elbowed antennae. At first I thought maybe termite? but from searching online it did not look like one.
As far as location, this insect was found in Pasadena CA in an apartment. Weather is spring (though warm enough to feel like summer). We have only seen the one so far & I have it contained in a specimen box. Please let me know if you need anything else & thanks!
We don’t recognize your Ant, and since it was found indoors in the spring, we would not eliminate the possibility that this is a queen ant attempting to establish a new colony after loosing her wings subsequent to her nuptial flight.
Because of its large size, we suspect this might be a Carpenter Ant in the genus Camponotus and you can see some examples on BugGuide. We hope someone with more knowledge on Ants can provide a definitive identification.
Letter 10 – Winged Carpenter Ant
Stung in my Bed!
August 8, 2009
I was crawling into the bed for the night, and something sharp poked me like a needle jabbed into my foot. I lifted up my sheets and a black flying thing hovered over my head. It was kinda like a carpenter ant that flys and stings, but I didnt get a close enough look. What was it?
Please help so I can see what treatment I need to put on it! Thank you!!
Dear Please help …,
We agree that this is a Winged Carpenter Ant, probably the Black Carpenter Ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus which is pictured on BugGuide. This is one of the reproductive adults after a nuptial flight that is in search of a new colony. We do not dispense medical advice.