When it comes to ants, the carpenter ant can be a real problem to a home. Why is that? Carpenter ants tend to build nests inside buildings and, if they get into the wood, it can result in structural damage.
One thing about carpenter ants is that they can be found in any area of the home – bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, bedroom, etc. And, if you see 20 or more of these pests inside your home, you can rest assured that they’ve established a colony somewhere nearby – either inside or outside.
Now, you might think that because they cause structural damage that they eat the wood. This isn’t the case. Rather, they only remove large quantities of it to increase the size of their nest. If you see just one or two carpenter ants, they may just be looking for food with the nest outside the home. When seen outside, they’re generally seen on plants and tree trunks or in damp, semi-rotten wood stumps.
How do they rank in annoying pests for homes? They’re at the top of the list for homeowners.
Of all the ant species, the carpenter ant is the largest one to be found in homes.
Queen carpenter ants are black, workers are typically brown. Workers tend to have a small thorax but large head. Adult swarmers have a large thorax and small head. When seen from the side, the carpenter ants have a smooth, rounded-arched shape at the top of their thorax. The pests have elbowed antennas, constricted waists and the forewings are bigger than the hindwings. These carpenter ants are hard to see and can be difficult to be removed. Adults are generally black in colour although some species have been seen with yellow, brown or red on parts of their body and legs.
The nests are typically found in damp, dying wood or sometimes in an existing wood cavity that’s dry as a bone. Workers will dig tunnels within the wood to expand the size of the nest to support the ever-growing colony.
Remember, carpenter ants will not eat wood. However, they will dig tunnels to raise the younger ants and bring aphids to plants, putting them on leaves to generate the honey dew production. There are all kinds of things the carpenter ant will eat including but not limited to:
- Fresh fruit
- Honey dew
- Living and dead insects
- Plant juices
They may even eat termites, if they are found in the home with the carpenter ant colony. Workers may look for food 100 yards away from their nest.
GAIN CONTROL OVER THE COLONY
When it comes to getting control over the carpenter ant colony, the most important thing you must do is find the nest(s). And, this can be extremely difficult to do. However, once the nest has been identified, controlling them is relatively simple. It’s not unheard of to have more than one carpenter ant colony within a structure, which is why an in-depth inspection needs to be carried out. There are four key steps to ridding a home of a carpenter ant infestation:
- Family interview
- Indoor inspection
- Outdoor inspection
- Sound detection
1 – Family Interview
The people living inside the home know where they have seen the ants and where the greatest concentration of them has been seen. They also know what the moisture content is within the home, the ants’ movement patterns, if they’ve seen swarmers, population outdoors and sawdust-like material locations.
2 – Indoor Inspection
Nests are found in both dry and moist wood, although they thrive better in a damp environment with a 15 percent or higher moisture content. A content level this high is usually the result of leaks, rain and condensation, to name a few. Structural timber can have a moisture level of 12 percent to 15 percent.
A moisture meter can identify where the wet spots and find potential nest locations. Inspections should be carried out around the bathroom tiles, tubs, sinks, showers, washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerator drip pans and any other place where water may be. Be sure to look closely at wood that has come in contact with moisture including but certainly not limited to:
- Chimney flashing
- Crawl spaces
- Porch supports
It’s not unheard of for nests to be found in a dry environment like curtain rods, false beans, attic insulation and hollow veneer doors. Be on the lookout for:
- Spider webs that have swarmers caught in them
- Damaged timbers
- Wood debris that gives off an appearance of pencil sharpener shavings
Use a hammer to gently tap the floor joists. If you get a hollow ring, it’s possible there is a nest. If the wood has been compromised, a blade of a knife will pierce the wood.
Using Bait to Find Carpenter Ant Nests
Some people use small sugar piles around kitchens, bathrooms and other rooms to locate a nest. However, some folks will use corn syrup or honey on masking tape to draw these ants out. Do this at night to watch the direction the ants are going to find the nest.
Using Flushing Agents to Find Carpenter Ant Nests
Apply household aerosol spray that contains the ingredients piperonyl butoxide and pyrethrins into holes, cracks and crevices to make the ants excited. These sprays will cause the ants to run out, many times revealing the location of their nest.
3 – Outdoor Inspection
To find the carpenter ants outdoors, look at a stump or tree. They can be found on logs, firewood, fences, vines that touch roofs, telephone and electrical wires and more. Carpenter ants may cause entrance knot holes in living trees. Workers tend to be more active during the overnight hours, going to a food source from their nest. Keep in mind that while there are trails, they don’t always go back to their nest.
4 – Sound Detection
Another way to find carpenter ant nest is to listen out for them. An active carpenter ant colony will make a dry rustling sound, which is similar to cellophane crinkling. When standing in a quiet room, you can hear them working.
You can also use a stethoscope to listen out for them. Keep in mind that the outside noises should be minimal and the noise inside the home is next to non-existent. Animals – cats especially – can hear the carpenter ants making noise with their jaws because they’re communicating with each other. This is especially true if the colony has been disturbed.
There is much a homeowner can do to reduce the chances of having carpenter ants invade their home.
- Cut bushes and trees so branches do not touch the home.
- Fix moisture-problem areas (plumbing, leaky roofs, blocked gutters, poorly ventilated crawl spaces or attics).
- Replace wood that’s both damaged and rotted
- Get rid of wood to soil contact
- Get rid of dead stumps that are within 50 feet of the home (if they can be)
- Fix trees that have broken limbs or have holes in their trunk.
- Seal up cracks in the foundation (especially important where wiring and utility pipes come inside).
- Store firewood high and away from the home
- Bring in only the firewood that’s needed (be sure to look it over first before bringing it inside)
- Use non-organic mulches around the home, especially in heavily-infected ant areas.
- Eliminate high moisture content levels to get rid of the carpenter ants, stave off future attacks and keep the chance for wood decay fungus infection down.
When your home is infested with carpenter ants, it’s important to seek the assistance of a licensed pest control firm. This is especially true when you can’t easily find the nests. Some forms will try locating the nests and treat just the areas they suspect the nests are. Other firms will drill holes and dust the possible carpenter ant nesting sites. The majority will do a perimeter spray treatment around the home’s foundation, although monthly sprayings should be avoided.
Unless you eradicate the nests, carpenter ant infestations are going to continue. It may not be easy to find the nest, but if you want to gain control over the problem, you need to find that carpenter ant nest.
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