carpenter ants

What is a Carpenter Ant? carpenter ants life cycle.

What is a Carpenter Ant?

(1/4″ – 1/2″ long) Nesting in damp locations, carpenter ants prefer to excavate wood that has been damaged by water. From their nests in the beams, floors or walls, they scavenge the house for food crumbs and insects. Carpenter ants may occur in several colors, although the most important species are black.

One of the largest members of the ant family, carpenter ants take their name from their habit of chewing passageways (called “galleries”) inside the wood. They live in these galleries and make excursions, most often at night, to hunt for food and water. These ants often set up satellite colonies inside homes from parent colonies located outside in a tree or landscape timber.

Where You’ll Find Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants love damp climates and moist areas – damp wood, any dark void, a few morsels of food. Places that get a lot of rain are especially susceptible. So are homes built in heavily wooded areas or in low, shady places where the ground stays damp. In your home, you’re likely to find carpenter ants nesting around a sink in the kitchen or bathroom. Maybe even around plumbing leaks, clogged gutters and downspouts.

A clean house is no guarantee. When carpenter ants move in, the first thing they do is look for food. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood. They search for syrup, honey, jelly, meat, fruit, grease, fat, and other domestic foods. If these favorites are not available in your home, the ants will feed on dead or living insects or any other type of organic matter.

To construct their galleries, carpenter ants tear bits of wood and place them outside the nest. These sawdust-looking piles, called frass, may be the first visible sign that carpenter ants are present. Left unchecked for a period of time, these galleries can become quite large. While the primary nest is found in damp wood, carpenter ants establish many satellite colonies. This makes them difficult to control, especially since colonies may be found in any dark void- hollow curtain rods, hollow-core doors, ceilings, dead wall space, etc.

Carpenter ants mature in about two months and immediately start enlarging the nest. First-year broods are small, with only 10 to 20 workers. But in a few years, when the colony has thousands of workers, small tunnels become major expressways connecting many hidden galleries. You may not be aware that a strong colony is firmly entrenched in your home until it is too late.

Telltale Signs of Carpenter Ants

  • Trails of workers around the kitchen, pantry, and other areas where food is stored
  • Sawdust-like material that workers kick out of their nests during excavation
  • Listen for ant sounds in the quiet of the night. When the ants are chewing, or simply moving around in the nest, they make a sound like rustling cellophane.

If you see or hear any of these signs, you may have carpenter ants.

The experts at Terminix tell us you need to have a well-constructed plan for dealing with carpenter ants. If you suspect carpenter ants have invaded your home, it’s best to seek immediate treatment. Professionals make a thorough inspection of your home, inside and out. Depending on your home’s construction and the location of the main nest and satellite colonies, these professionals will use a variety of methods to treat the problem. These might include crack and crevice treatment, inner wall treatments, or even fumigation.

Reinfestation by Carpenter Ants

Reinfestation by carpenter ants is a constant threat. Only regular inspections and preventive services can keep them out.

Nesting Sites of Carpenter Ants

  • Dead limbs of living trees
  • Under attic insulation.
  • Hollow trees
  • Roofs
  • Interior wall voids
  • Hollow-core doors
  • Under exterior siding
  • Ceilings
  • Supports in crawl space
  • Exterior wall voids
  • Stumps
  • Woodpile
  • Sill plates
  • Between insulation and subfloors
  • Roots of dead trees

Points of Entry for Carpenter Ants

  • Clogged drains and gutters
  • Fencing next to the home
  • Wiring entrances
  • Edges of fireplace brick
  • Window casings
  • Door frames
  • Vines and plants touching home
  • Edges of siding
  • Mulch around home
  • Crawl space vent
  • Plumbing
  • Wood in contact with soil


Carpenter Ants

  • Are typically large ants up to 5/8-inch long; color varies from black, brown & black, red and black, to light brown depending on the species. The two most common pest species are black in color.
  • Most common pest ant seen in homes throughout the northern United States from the east to the west coast.
  • The main colony must have a constant source of moisture to survive so it is usually located in deadwood outside, e.g., dead limbs, tree holes, stumps, landscape timbers, etc. Indoors, the main colony will have to be associated with a water leak or an overly wet, poorly ventilated crawlspace or attic.
  • The main colony may establish satellite colonies that are the primary source of ant activity inside homes. These satellite colonies may be located in any suitable void, under attic insulation, etc. Colonies have even been found by Terminix professionals inside hollow doors, curtain rods, shower rods, and once inside an alarm clock!
  • These ants set up trunk trails between the main colony to satellite colonies and between satellite colonies. Foraging ants can most easily be seen along these trunk trails at night when the ants are most active. Sometimes, the trunk trails occur beneath the ground following tree roots.
  • Since carpenter ants may forage as far as 200 yards or further, the main colony may be located on a neighboring property.
  • Carpenter ants feed on a wide variety of foods, especially other insects. The favored food of adults is the sweet honeydew produced by plant-feeding insects, such as aphids, scales, and mealybugs.
  • In the spring, mature colonies produce winged reproductives, called swarmers, that fly out to start new colonies. These swarms often occur from satellite colonies within homes so a homeowner may see large flying ants in their home at night.
  • Carpenter ant queens are about 3/4-inch in length while the males are smaller at 1/2-inch. The color varies depending on the species.
  • Carpenter ants can be very difficult to control so most homeowners employ the services of a professional company like Terminix.

Argentine Ants

  • Argentine ants are the most common invader of homes in Southern California. This ant is also very common in homes throughout most of the Gulf Coast states.
  • The workers are dark brown to black and are about 1/8-inch in length. The body is often shiny in appearance.
  • The colonies of Argentine ants can grow quite large containing tens of thousands of workers and numerous queens.
  • Each colony will be divided into subcolonies which are located in various suitable harborages and which are connected by established trunk trails. These subcolonies will number from a few hundred to thousands of individuals.
  • Subcolonies will take advantage of every available suitable site where enough protection and moisture is present. Nests may occur in the soil next to trees and shrubs and under any item in contact with the soil. Indoors, this ant will nest within wall voids, under the edge of the carpeting, under attic ventilation, and behind dishwashers to name but a few sites.
  • During the summer, Argentine ants aggressively forage for food during the morning, late afternoon, and evening hours. Foragers enter homes to find food and from there decide to locate a subcolony indoors.
  • The food preferences are varied but the workers readily feed on the honeydew produced by aphids, scales, and mealybugs as their main source of nutrition. Insects, carrion, and similar protein foods are carried back to the nest to feed the larvae.
  • In areas where the Argentine ant is a major pest, the best strategy to keep home invasions to a minimum is through a course of regular exterior inspections and service.

Pavement Ants

  • Pavement ants are small (1/8-inch) ants that are regular pests of buildings throughout the northeast to the Midwestern United States. This ant is also found along the west coast from California to Washington.
  • This ant derives its name for its preference of nesting in soil next to and beneath slabs, sidewalks, patios, and driveways.
  • Colonies are usually easy to find due to the piles of displaced soil next to and on top of pavement.
    Indoors, pavement ants nest under the foundation and within hollow block foundation walls. Occasionally, a colony may carry soil up into a wall to form a nest. When piles of soil appear from under baseboards or on top of a basement or garage floor, it is a good sign that pavement ants may be present.
  • Individual pavement colonies can often be controlled using ant baits, but perimeter inspection and treatment is commonly necessary for long term relief.

Imported Fire Ants

  • The red imported fire ant was brought into this country during the 1920s and has spread to cover most of the Gulf Coast states and most of eastern Texas. It is now established north into parts of Tennessee and North Carolina.
  • This reddish-brown ant has many sizes of workers in the colony ranging from 1/8- to almost 3/8-inch in length. It is easily distinguished from other ants if one is unlucky enough to be stung.
  • Fire ants pose a health risk to anyone venturing into areas where the ants are found. Although the vast majority of stings result only in a raised welt that may develop a white pustule, a person allergic to insect stings could experience a more serious reaction. Additionally, a person seldom receives just one sting, rather several to dozens and possibly hundreds of stings can occur quickly to a person accidentally kneeling or standing next to or on a fire ant mound.
  • These ants nest in the soil and construct large mounds that are easily seen in lawns and pastures. A single lawn may contain a dozen or more mounds.
  • This ant will also locate nests within landscape mulch and beneath items on the ground, such as landscape timbers. The mounds of such colonies may be shallow and poorly structured making them difficult to detect to the less experienced eye.
  • Fire ants may construct mounds next to the foundation and enter homes through weep holes or other exterior cracks and holes. Once inside, workers forage in trails beneath the edge of carpeting. On occasion, the ants will bring soil up into walls or beneath first-floor bathrooms and construct a nest.
  • Due to the health threat posed by fire ants, it is important to take steps to control the ants around the home and in the yard.
  • Over-the-counter fire ant baits can be effective if properly used, but regular reapplications are necessary because the ants readily reinvade from neighboring properties. Many homeowners employ the services of a professional, like Terminix, to provide such services.

Odorous House Ants, Crazy Ants, Ghost Ants, White-Footed Ants

  • Odorous house ants are brown ants about 1/8-inch long. If crushed, the workers give off a rotten coconut odor, hence their name. They are common in California north to Washington and are the most common pest ant in the mid-south region of Arkansas and West Tennessee. They may be encountered occasionally throughout the Midwestern United States.
  • Crazy ants are 1/8-inch long, black ants with extremely long legs and antennae. These ants received their name from their habit of quick zig-zag movements that seem to have to the real, apparent direction. They are common in all the Gulf Coast states from Florida to Texas and can be found in parts of Arizona and in commercial buildings in a few northern cities, such as Philadelphia and New York.
  • Ghost ants are tiny (< 1/16-inch), pale-colored ants with a dark head and abdomen. These ants are very difficult to see unless one looks closely. This ant is now a major pest throughout most of Florida and several of the Hawaiian Islands. It occasionally is found in apartments and greenhouses in northern states.
  • The white-footed ant is a black ant about 1/8-inch long. The tarsal segments at the end of all six legs are pale in color giving it its name. This ant is a serious pest in southern Florida and on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu.
  • All four species may develop huge colonies containing thousands of workers and numerous queens. A colony of white-footed ants can number up to one million individuals.
  • All four of these ants nest outdoors under items on the ground, within landscape mulch, beneath loose bark on trees, under ground cover, in potted plants, and within piles of items, such as lumber, firewood, or bricks.
  • Nests may readily be established inside homes in walls, beneath carpeting, and other suitable voids or spaces.
  • All three species are difficult to control and do not feed much on ant baits. The keys to control are to find the colonies and subcolonies and treat them directly. Regular inspections and services are necessary to find and treat new colonies as they move in from neighboring properties. The services of a professional, such as Terminix, are very helpful when encountering these ants.


Carpenter ants

Carpenter ants are a nuisance by their presence when located in parts of the home such as the kitchen, bathroom, parlor and various quarters. When 20 or more large winged and/or wingless ants are discovered indoors, in the daylight near one location, it is attainable that the colony is more developed in the home and the nest might have been extended into sound wood, sometimes causing structural damage. They don’t eat timber, but often remove quantities of it to expand their nest size. Still, but only if 1 to 2 large wingless ants are erratically crawling, they may simply be foraging for food with the nest located outside. Outdoors, they are regularly seen running over plants and tree trunks or living in moist, partly rotten wood stumps. Nevertheless, carpenter ant inquiries rank first overall other households/structural pests in Ohio.


Carpenter ants are among the biggest ants located in homes and reside in colonies containing three castes consisting of winged and wingless queens, winged males and various sized workers. Winged males are much smaller than winged queens. Wingless queens measure 5/8 inch, winged queens 3/4 inch to the tips of their folded brownish wings, small minor workers 1/4 inch and large major workers 1/2 inch. Workers have some brown on them while queens are black.


Workers have large heads and a small thorax while adult swarmers have a smaller head and large thorax. Carpenter ants have a smoothly rounded arched (convex) shape to the peak of the thorax when viewed from the side and a pedicel between the thorax and abdomen consisting of only one segment or node. They have constricted waists, elbowed antennas and the reproductive’s forewings are larger than the hindwings, transparent or brownish and not easily removed. Adults are commonly black with some species red, brown or yellow occurring on body parts and legs. Eggs are about 1/8-inch long, cream-colored and oval. Larvae are legless and grub-like, later pupating in tough silken, tan-colored cocoons erroneously referred to as “ant eggs.”

Life Cycle and Habits

Queen Worker

carpenter ants

carpenter ants

Winged both sexes carpenter ants (swarmers) emerge from mature colonies usually from March to July. After mating, males die and freshly fertilized women (mated for life), establish a new colony in a small cavity in wood, under bark, etc. and each lays 15 to 20 eggs in 15 days. The egg stage takes about 24 days, larval stage 21 days and pupal stage 21 days or about 66 days from egg to an adult at 70 to 90 degrees F. Cool weather may extend this period up to 10 months. The colony does not produce swarmers until about three years later. A mature colony, after 3 to 6 years, has 2,000 to 4,000 individuals.


During the first breed, larvae are fed entirely by a fluid secreted from the queen’s mouth where she does not take food but uses stored fat reserves and wing muscles for her nourishment. The few workers emerging from the first incubate assume duties of the colony, collecting food, excavating galleries to enlarge the nest and tending the eggs, larvae, and pupae of the second generation. Workers regurgitate food for the nourishment of the developing larvae and queen. She has few duties except to lay eggs.

In later generations, workers of several sizes are produced (polymorphism) into major and minor workers, that are all sterile women. Males formed are winged swarmers. Larger “major” workers guard the nest, battle intruders, explore and forage for food while smaller “minor” workers expand the nest and look after the young. workers, when disturbed, carry off the larvae and pupa, which must be fed and tended or they die. In a mature colony, there is usually one queen with 200 to 400 winged individuals produced as swarmers. Workers have strong jaws and readily bite (sharp pinch) when contacted.

Nests are ordinarily established in soft, moist (not wet), decayed timber or from time-to-time in a current timber cavity or void area in a structure that is perfectly dry. Workers cut galleries in the timber, expanding the nest size for the enlarging colony. Galleries are irregular, usually excavated with the timber grain ( occasionally across the texture) into softer portions of the wood. The walls of the nest are smooth and clean (sandpapered appearance) with shredded sawdust-like wood fragments, like chewed up toothpicks (frass), carried from the nest and deposited outside. These piles of wood fragments, often discovered beneath special openings (windows) or nest openings, might incorporate portions of insects, empty seed coats, etc.


Reproductive Behavior of Carpenter Ants

During the summer, when carpenter ants start lining the door jambs, crowding the counter-tops, and building mounds along sidewalks and driveways, it seems as if ants just clone themselves on the spot. Spend ten minutes killing ants, and in half the time they’re all back. How do they do it?

Biology of A Carpenter Ant

Female carpenter ants do all the work. Literally. Males lounge around the hive all day, getting fed by worker ants (female), until the new queens are ready to leave the nest to start a new colony. When the queens are about a year old, they are ready. As soon as spring rolls around, the queens and males swarm out of the nest (you’ll notice all of the ants with wings during this time – both males and queens have wings). This is called the nuptial flight.

the mating

The nuptial flight of carpenter ants is not just a simple mating session. The queen’s fight as hard as they can against the males – often resisting even throughout the mating process – in what is an instinctual effort to make sure only the fastest and strongest genes are passed on into the new colony. The queens will mate with many males during the nuptial flight, and store the sperm in her abdomen. She then dives to the ground and burrows in deeply. She then lays her first set of eggs, releases some of the sperm to fertilize them, and awaits her first brood. Once the larva has developed (a matter of a few weeks) she eats her own wings, digests the nutrients, and feeds them back to the legless, maggot-like ant larva through a process called trophallaxis – regurgitation, in layman’s terms.

queen carpenter ant

A single queen carpenter ant will live up to fifteen years, during which she will lay, fertilize, and hatch over one million new ants. Many of these will be queens, who will fly away large distances to create a new colony. Hopefully, it won’t be anywhere near your home.
Colonies can cover miles of terrain. Ants are the most highly competitive territorial organism aside from humans. The largest colony of ants yet to be found stretches 6,000 kilometers beneath European soil.

does carpenter ants eat wood?

Carpenter ants do not eat wood but excavate wood galleries to rear their young ants and carry aphids to plants, placing them on leaves for the output of honeydew. The food weight loss program is of great variety (omnivorous) of both plant and animal origin like plant juices, fresh fruits, insects (living or dead), meats, syrup, honey, jelly, sugar, grease, fat, honeydew (aphid excrement), etc. They feed readily on termites and usually never exist with them in a home. Workers are known to forage for food as far as 100 yards from their nest.


What Do Ants Eat?

They simply live in the wood. Ants consume a wide variety of plants and animals to create stores of different nutrients. As for carpenter ants, the staples of their diet are:

  • The excrement of honeydew-producing insects like mealybugs, soft scales, or aphids
  • Decomposing animals such as snakes, frogs, etc.
  • Other insects

Carpenter ants eat insects for several reasons. They are a very economical organism, and so when they find any bit of food, they are not inclined to let it go to waste – carpenter ants eat their own dead to keep the nutrients left in the carcass from going to waste. This extends to when carpenter ants kill other pests for self-defense, as well, or to pests killed in defense of the aphids or scales that produce the main ingredient of their diets.

Some ants prefer fatty foods, but carpenter ants – and most other ants, as well – generally search for foods that are high in sugars because the biochemical structure of their bodies takes sugars and polymers and, through a complex biosynthesis, turns these sugars into amino acids and other chemical compounds essential for cellular life. Special organs in carpenter ants and other arthropod insects, called fat bodies, hold cells that specialize in carrying this transformation through and then holding the nutrients until needed.

When carpenter ants eat, they consume what they can and carry the rest. When the worker carpenter ants get back to the nest, they store the food they have carried, and share the food they have eaten – and digested – through a process called trophallaxis; which is basically a regurgitation of the food which has now been processed into amino acids and necessary proteins.

The carpenter ant queen uses this method of trophallaxis when first establishing the colony. Once her first set of larvae are hatched from their eggs, the queen cannot leave to get food, and instead eats her own wings, metabolizing the nutrients from them and, in turn, feeding them to her young.

Other insects and ants are the best food for carpenter ants because they contain the same biological organs that convert foods to the specific nutrients that carpenter ants need. When eating other insects, the carpenter ants consume everything but the exoskeletons, which saves them energy because their bodies do not have to convert the sugars into the amino acids as they do when eating regular sugars or plants containing sugars



Control Measures carpenter ants

carpenter ants

carpenter ants

The most significant and often most challenging part of carpenter ant control is locating the nest or nests. As soon as the nest location is discovered, control is very simple and simple. Sometimes more than one colony is present in the structure or on its grounds, so a thorough inspection is very important. Steps to a booming inspection include an interview with family members, inspection indoors, inspection outside and sound detection.

Often adults and children of the residence know where ants are seen, where large numbers are most prevalent, movement patterns, moisture in the structure, moisture problems of the past, if swarmers were seen, location of sawdust-like material in piles, populations outdoors, etc.


inspection Indoors carpenter ants

Nests can be located in either moist or dry timber. Nonetheless, carpenter ants prefer to nest in moist wood with a moisture content considerable over 15 percent, often the result of rain, leaks, condensation, etc. Structural timber is about 12 to 15 percent moisture.

possible nest locations

A moisture meter can find wet spots to pinpoint possible nest locations. Inspect behind restroom tiles, around tubs, showers, sinks, dishwashers, washing machines, refrigerator drip pans, etc. Check wood subject to moisture from contact with the soil such as steps, porch supports, siding, seepage from plugged drain gutters, chimney flashing, wooden shingle roofs, hollow porch posts, columns, leaking window and door frames, window boxes, crawl spaces, pipes, poor pitch of porch roofs, flat deck porch roofs, under porches, attics, etc. Often times, nests are located in dry environments, like hollow veneer doors, curtain rods, small void areas between the door casing and ceiling, false beams, or under insulating material in attics. Look for damaged timbers, swarmers in spider webs, timber piles indoors, piles of wood debris ejected from the colony (pencil sharpener shaving-like), “windows” or small opening to a nest, etc. Gently tap floor joists, etc. with a hammer. A nest cavity gives a hollow ring. A knife blade will penetrate the timber if infested.


carpenter ants

carpenter ants

Some may use tiny piles of sugar at 2 to 3 feet intervals around the kitchen, restroom, etc. in an attempt to work out where the nest can be found. Others use drops of honey or corn syrup placed on the rear of masking tape. Make observations late at night, following ants back to their nest entrance.

Flushing Agent

A household aerosol spray, containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, applied directly into fractures, crevices or holes, will excite the ants (repellent action) causing them to come running out revealing the presence of their nest in a few instances.
Inspection Outdoors

Look for ants traveling from a tree or stump to the structure. They could travel over tree branches or vines touching the roof, electrical and telephone wires, fences alongside the house, piles of firewood, logs, or railroad ties nearby or hollow living trees with entrance knot holes, etc. Workers are busiest at night (midnight), traveling from their nest to a food source following trails but no particular trail leading instantly to the nest. They do establish chemical (pheromone) trails.

Sound Detection

An involved colony may produce a distinct, dry rustling sound ( sometimes loud), much in-line with the crinkling of cellophane. It can be heard in a wall when standing in a room. A listening device, like a stethoscope, may be useful when the weather is quiet and outside noises are at a nominal amount. Even a cat may hear noises in the home the result of ant mandibles (jaws) not from chewing timber or eating food, but as their form of conversation, particularly when the colony is disturbed.

Prevention carpenter ants

carpenter ants

carpenter ants

Homeowners should trim all trees and bushes so branches do not touch or touch the house. Correct moisture problems such as leaking roofs, leaking chimney flashing, or plumbing, poorly ventilated attics or crawl spaces and blocked gutters. Replace rotted or water-damaged timber and eradicate timber to soil contact. Remove dead stumps within 50 feet of the home, if practical, and repair trees with damage at broken limbs, and holes in the trunk. Seal fractures and crevices in the foundation, especially where utility pipes and wiring occur externally. Be certain to shop firewood off the ground far away from the house and bring in just enough firewood (first examining it) to be employed quickly. Consider non-organic mulches near the house in heavily infested ant areas. High moisture conditions must be wiped out to help control carpenter ants, prevent future attacks and prevent ” wood decay” fungus infection.

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