Proper insect identification is an important first step to avoid unnecessary treatment and expense. Carpenter ants have certain distinguishing features (see insert photo) but vary in size and color. Since variations exist between species, rely on your Cascade technician to assist you in proper insect identification.
|Carpenter ants trailing along house foundation.
|Base of tree that had been infested with carpenter ants.
||Carpenter ant frass (wood shavings) that are being deposited through a crack from deep within the wood timber. This exterior nest could possibly house the queen of the colony.
Carpenter ants have an ability and preference to nest in wood. They don't ingest or digest the wood like termites, they merely 'chew' or tear the wood to excavate nest sites. In forests such nesting is beneficial as it helps return dead wood to soil. Unfortunately, they view a wood framed home as nothing more than a uniquely arranged woodpile.
A colony may number up to 70,000 ants. One aspect of carpenter ants that makes them extremely challenging to control is the fact that they divide their population amongst various nest sites; as many as 12 nest sites have been located for one carpenter ant colony alone! The ants of the colony communicate with one another throughout their network of nests. Since the nests of one colony can be as far as 300 feet apart from one another, some colonies are spread over a sizeable portion of a neighborhood!
One of the nests contains an egg-laying queen that continually repopulates the entire colony. This "parent" nest site is always located in wood with a high moisture content. As a result it is often found in stumps, logs or within old trees.
In contrast, the "satellite" nests do not contain queens and may be located in dry, sound wood. These are typically the nests found infesting homes. One or more nests can be located anywhere within the structural framing including the walls, floors, crawlspaces, and attics, as well as within insulation and roofing materials. Since the "parent" nest is outside, merely "killing a nest" within the house structure seldom solves the problem.
Although carpenter ants destroy wood by excavating nests they do not 'eat' the wood. 'Worker ants' exit their nest and forage on shrubs and trees for their food. They eat other insects and grubs, and 'milk' aphids for a sugary liquid known as "honeydew." Most foraging occurs at night, however, it is their limited daytime activity that is most noticeable to us.
|Carpenter ants tending aphids for "honeydew," a food source for the ants.
||Carpenter ants actually take care of aphids in order to "milk" them for a sugary substance, "honeydew". Here they are on a fir tree.
An obvious "red alert" is the presence of carpenter ants indoors. But this is very rare. Since carpenter ant workers almost never wander indoors such indoor activity would indicate an infestation somewhere in the house framing. Also, it should be noted that spraying these indoor ants with a consumer bug spray will not control the nest or the damage that's going on. It will only disrupt the behavior of ants showing up in your living space and may give you a false sense of security.
|Carpenter ants traversing to and from house structure along telephone wires. As you can see their presence in the home can go unnoticed as they're not trailing along the ground.
||Carpenter ants on roof eave next to gutter. This shows how easily they can get to homes from trees and shrubs without most of us ever knowing!
However, carpenter ant problems are rarely made obvious by indoor activity and often go unnoticed by homeowners for years. It is best to look for them outside near the home – and better yet, to have Cascade inspect and treat preventatively. The reason we can often find some indication of what's going on within a structure by carpenter ant activity outside is that they have to leave their nests within the structure to forage for food on trees and shrubs. Such outdoor activity – while often sparse during the day – may be on the ground, decks and patios, fences which touch the house, tree branches which touch the roof, or near tree trunks in the yard. Occasionally they are even found traveling along the wires which run from the roof to a utility pole. As you can see they can sometimes be hard to detect.
Finding the sawdust-like "frass" produced by the ants is dramatic, and an extremely obvious sign of a very close nest. Unfortunately, this is uncommon because they usually deposit the frass within wall voids and other locations where it is hidden from human view.
|Carpenter ants frass (wood shavings) from landscape timber. This exterior nest supported other nests n the home structure.
||Carpenter ants at junction of fencing and home.
|Carpenter ants at junction of fencing and home.
||Carpenter ants and their frass (wood shavings) at the base of exterior house siding.|| Cluster of carpenter ants and their frass. It is rare to have such obvious evidence of infestation within the structure as the frass is usually deposited deep within where it will not be seen.
Finally, the presence of winged carpenter ant "swarmers" – the reproductive males and females (future queens) – in any significant number can point to nest sites nearby from which they've exited.
|Carpenter ants traveling along roof downspout.
||Close up of same.|
|This is where carpenter ants entered the house from the downspout and the roof eave.