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Carpenter Ants

Get information on carpenter ants.

One of the first steps to ridding one's home of carpenter ants is to take preventative measures, especially where there are trees growing close to the windows. [©Shutterstock, 2010]
©Shutterstock, 2010
One of the first steps to ridding one's home of carpenter ants is to take preventative measures, especially where there are trees growing close to the windows.

Carpenter ants are one of the most common and troublesome pests in the United States. A carpenter ant infestation can lead to an expensive exterminating bill for the homeowner. However, because carpenter ants can cause serious structural damage to a house, it’s best not to ignore them.

About Carpenter Ants

The genus Camponotus – better known as carpenter ants – has hundreds of species in the United States. Large, nocturnal ants that can measure up to half an inch long, carpenter ants earn their name through their habit of hollowing out wood for their nests. However, carpenter ants do not feed on wood. Instead, they eat insects, as well as sugary foods such as honeydew, honey, syrup and other sweets. Carpenter ants are usually black, but some species are colored red, yellow and brown.

Carpenter ants are fairly remarkable creatures, organizing into parent colonies of up to 15,000 ants. Within these colonies, carpenter ants establish castes, with worker ants toiling to serve the queen. Worker ants also act to expand the parent colony’s empire by setting up satellite colonies.

Carpenter ants build nests by hollowing out wood, preferring moist or damp wood, especially if it’s rotting or dead. The major concern for homeowners occurs when carpenter ants find their way into a house, especially if they begin nesting in walls. A telltale sign of a carpenter ant infestation is little piles of coarse sawdust near openings in walls and baseboards.

How to Prevent Carpenter Ants

Getting rid of carpenter ants is a difficult task, and steps should be taken to prevent an infestation in the first place.

Preventing carpenter ants begins with eliminating conditions that ants find attractive. Carpenter ants seek out moist, damp wood, so fixing leaky windows, gutters, walls and roofs will help prevent the house from becoming attractive real estate for carpenter ants.

Additionally, trees in close proximity to a building can lead to ant problems. Carpenter ants like to establish colonies in openings of trees; when these trees are too close to a house, ants can use the branches as a natural bridge connecting the colony to a house. Experts at the University of Missouri’s Department of Entomology suggest closing the openings of trees that sit close to a house, as well as keeping branches pruned and away from buildings.

Stacks of firewood or other lumber can also pose a risk for nesting ants. Keep lumber piles away from the sides of the house, and try not to keep firewood for too long –- more than a season or two, and the odds of carpenter ants establishing a colony are greatly increased.

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants

No matter what steps are taken to prevent carpenter ants, sometimes there is simply no way to avoid them. Carpenter ants are robust and industrious creatures, and carpenter nests have been discovered in such unlikely places as beneath bathroom tiles, around dishwashers, and even in the hollows of curtain rods.

As mentioned earlier, one of the telltale signs of a carpenter ant infestation is unexplained piles of wood shavings or sawdust near walls or baseboards. The shavings are caused by carpenter ants tunneling nests into the structural framework of the home.

If carpenter ants are suspected, the best time to look for them in a home is at night. Because they are nocturnal creatures the ants will be active at night and if one carpenter ant is present in the house, there are likely many more.

If a carpenter ant is discovered, experts do not recommend simply crushing it. Carpenter ants leave invisible chemical scent trails that can be detected by other carpenter ants. Killing a single ant will not prevent others from following its trail.

The best way to get rid of carpenter ants is to eliminate their nest. Experts recommend spraying the nest with an insecticide designed specifically for killing carpenter ants.

Finding the nest can be difficult. Following carpenter ants as they disappear into holes in the wall is one way to identify where the nest might be. Even if nests exist in the house, the parent colony is probably outside, so using a flashlight to track ant movements at night can help locate where outdoor nests exist.

If insecticides are not an option, or the nests can’t be located, poisoned baits may be effective. These commercially available baits work by providing tempting, sugar-based foods laced with poison to foraging ants. When ants take the bait and bring the food back to the colony, the entire population becomes poisoned. For a home brew, mix an ant poison consisting of 10 percent sugar water and 1 percent boric acid.

Baits are sometimes effective, but they are slow-acting and inconsistent. Ants have a varied diet, and there is no guarantee that carpenter ants will be attracted to bait.

If carpenter ants continue to invade the house despite insecticides and baits, a professional exterminator will need to take care of a carpenter ant infestation. Professional exterminators are trained to locate likely nesting spots, and have access to a wider variety of insecticides and baits than the average homeowner.

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