Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are nature’s demolition team.  Their task is to help degrade dead and decaying wood, breaking it down into pieces small enough to be assimilated into the soil.  This returns the nutrients to the cycle of growth, death, decay and regrowth.  Carpenter ants do not eat wood as they are incapable of digesting the cellulose in the wood.  The only insect capable of digesting that cellulose is the termite, a very different insect indeed.  Carpenter ants are actually omnivorous.  In their natural environment they eat the nectar of flowers, the honeydew produced by aphids, and other insects (dead or alive).  In our household environment they will eat pretty much anything we do.  In the early Spring,  their food sources in nature may not be awake so the ants seek food they can find in our homes.  Crumbs of food left on floors and counters or under the table and around the barbecue are all fair game when it comes to carpenter ants.  We often see worker ants running around our walls and floors looking for crumbs in the spring.   

Off-putting as it may be to find ants running around your kitchen or bathroom, it isn’t always an indication of serious trouble.  Foraging ants can travel up to 100 yards from the outdoor nest in their search for food, so if you live in a forested area, or have some dead wood around, it isn’t surprising to find a few foraging around in search of food.  Once the weather warms and the plants and insects are more “awake”, the ants will “disappear” for another year.  Usually they are gone within a couple of weeks.  If you are still seeing them after that and you are seeing more than 15 or 20 per day on a regular basis, you should call the office so we can investigate the next steps.  We’ll ask you some questions about the number of ants and their behaviour to determine the necessity of a Carpenter Ant service.

Carpenter ants are one of the larger species of ants we see here in Eastern Ontario.  They have a segmented body with 3 parts: the head, thorax (mid section) and abdomen (tail end).  A single node (think bump) called the abdominal peticel divides the thorax from the abdomen.  Their antennae are also segmented.  Most commonly we see the worker ants charged with foraging for food.  They are either black or red and black and range in size from 3/8 of an inch to 1/2 inch long.  The size of the worker is based on whether they are major or minor workers.  Worker ants are female but are not capable of reproduction.  

Reproduction is performed by winged males and females (queens).  In mating season, males exit the nest, flying off in search of a  queen to mate with.  The new queen flies to a new nest site and loses her wings.  She then starts the process of building a new colony.  The queen lives off food stored in her body until the first of the workers are large enough to begin gathering food, then she does nothing but lay eggs.  A healthy queen can live between 15 and 20 years, laying over 70,000 eggs in her lifetime.  When the colony gets too large, satellite nests are built and some of the larvae are moved to the new nest. It takes 3 – 5 years for the parent nest (where the queen is) to get large enough to produce reproductive males and new queens. 

Typical outdoor nest locations would be old logs, fallen or diseased trees, stumps that have been left to rot, landscaping materials like decorative logs and fencing or piles of firewood.  All of these make great places for galleries and interconnected tunnels. This kind of degradation of wood isn’t as welcome however when the carpenter ants locate wook in your house that has been water damaged such as a window sill, the flooring under a leaky dishwasher or the wall in a damp basement or behind the tiles in your shower.

Carpenter ant tunnels

Seeing a large number of ants on a daily basis is an indication you may have a nest in your home.  If on sunny days you are seeing more than 15 or 20 a day,  look for areas with lots of moisture where the wood may have become compromised.  If you can press your fingernail into the wood, it is soft enough for the ants to tear apart.  Look for piles of sawdust (called frass) that the ants have removed from the compromised wood.  At this point, it is important to contact your favorite pest control company (may we suggest Enviro-Guard Plus?).  We’ll inspect your home and look for signs of satellite nests.  If anything is found, we’ll make recommendations for the next step.  

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