Carpenter ants appear as predominately large, sturdy black ants, some with dark tan or mahogany colorations ranging in size from ¼” to ½”. Carpenter ants play an important ecological role by helping to decompose dead and fallen trees. They become an important economic pest when these ants invade wooden members of manmade structures. Carpenter ants are responsible for millions of dollars of damage every year in the United States.
Carpenter ants prefer to attack damp wood which has been weakened by decay. Dry, sound wood is vulnerable, but is less likely to be attacked. Wood is not a food source for ants; in fact after chewing wood to make tunnels in which to live, the carpenter ant regurgitates it as soft fluffy sawdust. This sawdust combined with bits and pieces of insects on which they have fed, is known as frass. Frass is carried from the nest and deposited outside. Frass is one sign of carpenter ant damage, however, it is often never found as ants may dispose of frass within a wall void or other inaccessible location. As a colony expands in size, so does the size of its nest. Workers are constantly engaged in cutting galleries in the wood to accommodate the enlarging colony.
Each colony begins by a single mated queen selecting or excavating a small cavity in the soil, wood, under bark, or the like. After sealing the entrance hole with a cement-like wood paste, fifteen to twenty eggs are laid to form the nucleus of the new parent colony. The few worker ants, called minims, which emerge from this first nesting group, or brood, are small but assume the duties of the colony. Minims open the chamber to the outside, collect food, begin to excavate galleries to enlarge the nest and tend to the eggs, larvae and pupae of the second generation. The workers regurgitate food for the nourishment of the developing larvae. The queen is also fed regurgitated food while having few, if any duties, except to lay eggs.
As a parent colony grows, secondary colonies known as satellites are produced and may be scattered within a 300-foot radius of the parent colony. The colony is said to be mature when winged reproductives are formed. This occurs in three to six years at which time the colony contains up to 20,000 or more individuals.
The presence of ants inside does not necessarily mean there is a nest within the structure. Often ants seen inside are foraging ants entering the structure from outside in search of food. Ants nesting within the structure are more likely to be from a satellite colony than from a parent colony. Parent colonies are found most frequently nesting in trees outdoors and typically have 3 –12 satellite colonies associated with them.
Locating and eliminating satellite colonies within a structure solves the problem of current ant activity and stops the damage they cause. However, the likelihood of reinfestation, is always present for several reasons: multiple satellites are often established once a suitable structure is found; parent colonies are usually well away from the structure outside and are difficult or impossible to locate, parent colonies may service satellites over a territory several acres in size, and more than one parent colony supporting various ant populations can be located within any given territory especially ones where mature hardwood trees are numerous. Penn State University began an ongoing research study of carpenter ant behavior in early 2000. One initial conclusion was that carpenter ants will work to reestablish satellite nests from the parent colony almost immediately after the satellites are disturbed. It was found that parent colony ants follow the chemical trails to and from structures for up to three years after a satellite colony is removed.
WHAT TO DO: Conditions which attract or support carpenter ants can be limited by following these recommendations.
·Trim tree branches & shrubbery away from the house
·Clean up leaf litter and remove high weeds near house
·Remove rotted wood landscape timbers, fence posts, tree stumps, etc.
·Clear gutters & downspouts of debris
·Be sure attics and crawl spaces are vented properly to prevent moisture buildup. Screen all vents.
·Drain water away from foundation
·Inspect roof for leaks especially around chimneys and skylights
·Inspect plumbing in kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms for leaks
·Seal cracks around doors, windows, along foundations and roof lines
·Caulk around utility lines entering structure
·Store garbage in clean tightly sealed containers and away from the structure if possible
Locating and treating nests in and around a structure is the key to carpenter ant control. Specialized equipment allows for injection of products deep into excavated wood galleries. Great improvements have been made with bait technologies in carpenter ant control. Proper placement of bait products aids greatly in overall control, however, considerable expertise is usually necessary for effective results. Once satellite colonies are eliminated within a structure outside preventative treatments are usually necessary to help deter ants attempting to re-enter from their natural exterior environment.
Year round protection is available through our Commercial Eco Guard, Eco Select or Eco Premium service plans which help protect you, your home or business and your family from unwanted problems as new pests tend to occur again in the same or similar locations due to the environmental conditions in and around your structure. Details are available from our service specialist or by calling our customer service center at (585) 993-9100.