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Carpenter Ants in Your Home

By Chris Williams on February 6, 2015.

carpenter antKatlyn Graham:  Hello, I’m Katlyn Graham, here with Tim Chace, a pest control technician with Colonial Pest and an entomologist. Today we’re talking about carpenter ants.

What do carpenter ants look like?

Now, Tim, what do carpenter ants look like?

Tim Chace:  Carpenter ants are some of the biggest ants you’ll see around your property. Typically, it’s a large black ant. Carpenter ants aren’t all large, though.

Within a colony, there’s different sizes of ants depending on the job they have to do, including the king and queen ants.

The queen carpenter ant is just a large bomber of an ant with two smoky brown wings. Once the queen mates with the smaller wasp‑like male, she’ll chew her wings off, so you’ll see little stubs of the wings.

But those are typically the biggest ants you’ll ever see. If you step on them, all these white eggs come out the back, so that’s how you’ll know it’s a queen ant.

Sometimes in the summer, there are just hundreds of these walking around the yard.

Dangers of Carpenter Ants

Katlyn:  Now, what’s the danger with carpenter ants? Will they eat my house, or?

Tim:  That’s a great question. Carpenter ants can do substantial damage over time. But the good news is, they don’t eat wood.

They get their name, the carpenter ant, from their ability to excavate galleries or chambers within the wood itself to store their eggs, pupae and larvae throughout the development process.

But more commonly, the carpenter ants are living in pre‑made wall voids around windows, door frames, things of that nature. It’s almost like a starter kit for an ant nest, if you will.

Katlyn:  They’re burrowing through the wood?

Tim:  They can. They’ve got quite powerful mandibles that allow them to pick off little individual flecks. Over time, the nest area itself is a clean hollow chamber with almost acoustic wood fibers in there.

They keep the nest very clean, which results in that, what we call frass or sawdust being removed from the nest. Sometimes you’ll see some material falling out of a window frame or on the cellar sill that might indicate some nest activity in that location.

Carpenter ants in your house: now what?

Katlyn:  If you’ve identified carpenter ants in your house, what do you do?

Tim:  The first step, again, with most pest control things is a thorough inspection. We try to locate the areas where the ants are most active throughout the structure. They may be going outside to feed on bushes or little insects on the shrubs.

They could also be utilizing moisture leaks within the structure like a leaky bathroom, or plumbing leak. They can take advantage of the house in that way.

Carpenter ants also use different parts of the structure for their colony development. A hot attic is great to speed the pupil development and get more ants functioning in the house.

And then, quieter warmer areas where the larva live and feed the colony. The house is a pre‑made ant nest.

In some cases, the colony can be quite extensive and even work between several structures. It’s not uncommon to a have very, very large ant colony.

Katlyn:  Oh, gosh. So you come in and you spray chemicals, or what happens?

Tim:  Yeah. Our treatment involves a three‑prong process. The backbone of our chemical treatment involves the use of non‑repellent chemicals around the foundation.

These safe, low‑toxicity materials are available to be picked up by the ants as they move to and from the structure from their feeding ground in the forest.

As this material is trans‑located back to the nest, the colony begins to suffer the effects from this chemical. And within about a month, most of the ants have been killed off.

Depending on the timing of the treatment, the results can take from between three weeks to four and a half, to five weeks, depending on the size of the colony, and what exactly is happening.

We also try to treat interior areas of the structure to limit the ant activity within, as the colony gets upset by these materials, the workers that come out will die a little bit quicker.

And the third part of our process involves the direct treatment of the nest if we can find it. In some ant situations, the nest is available for treatment.

You either hear something in the wall, or there is some indication of where the nest is. And we use a very quick acting low toxicity material right on the nest itself to kill the ant nest.

If we locate the ant nest within the structure, we can usually have our way with it within just a few minutes.

But in any ant treatment, we try to do all aspects of the treatment to make sure that it was a thorough job, so that we can safely say that we’ve done everything at this house that we possibly could for the ants.

We’ve got a great track record with carpenter ants. It’s one of the colonial pest control specialty items.

Preventing Carpenter Ants in Your Home

Katlyn:  Now, how do I prevent carpenter ants from coming into my house in the first place?

Tim:  That is an excellent question. Some of the things that can be done around any house would be to just do routine maintenance tasks like controlling moisture damage, keeping trees and shrubs trimmed back 18 to 20 inches from the structure.

Eliminating common nest sites like woodpiles next to the house, old stumps next to the structure, dead and dying trees that look like they’re filled with ants. Removal of those things, can also make the house less conducive to carpenter ants.

Unfortunately, because we live in New England, there are just so many carpenter ant queens that are produced, it’s very difficult to just say, we’re going to seal up the house. Because they can get into just about any small opening.

But one of the things that can be done and we’ve found to be very effective is a routine maintenance for carpenter ants. What we try to do is treat the structure on the exterior twice a year as a preventative.

We find that structures that have been treated on a continual basis really don’t seem to have a lot of ant activity over time.

With routine treatments, carpenter ants will not be able to establish a colony within the structure, so a lot of our customers have come to enjoy the ant‑less life.

Katlyn:  I bet, definitely. Thank you, Tim, so much for joining us today.

Tim:  It’s been a pleasure.

Katlyn:  All these tips on ants, get rid of all the ants in our houses. Thank you so much.

Tim:  You’re welcome.

Photo credit: sanchom / Foter / CC BY

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