Like termites, carpenter ants make tunnels in decomposing wood. Frightening yet easy to detect, these ants are large black or black and red in the mid-section. These critters have six legs. Their bodies span between 6 to 17 mm depending on if it is a worker ant or a queen ant. All carpenter ants produce wings at certain times of the year depending on their mating time.
If you see any scurrying across your wood floors, it may mean that they are nesting in your home. They are most active at night and always follow the same trails. They can get into your food and water supply if you aren’t careful. They will truly infiltrate your home – not just your wood! They can rarely be found in the lining of your fridge. A mature nest will span a good portion of your home – floor to ceiling and can contain up to 5000 ants. They prefer warm, moist weather rather than colder, dryer weather.
They love moist, decaying wood. Because they really need moist wood for their eggs and their young, they always make their nests in moist wood. Carpenter ant nests can often be found in rotting tree stumps or decaying wood but they may be found in your house, too. If you have any decaying wood in the structure of your home, this is possible carpenter ant nest territory. Not to worry, the big ant colonies with large populations take years to establish.
You may think that carpenter ants feast on wood, they actually don’t. These household pests only borrow in wood and make tunnels in decomposing timber known as galleries. They destroy homes by making nests in decaying wood and making tunnels into good wood. They will also make other nests in dry wood for more mature larvae and pupae. These nests are not commonly in wood floors. In fact, they are under or in insulation, in attics, crawl spaces, hollow doors, structural doors, downspouts, subfloors, beams, under roof shingles and porches. They will attack your wood floors if they have any moisture in them.
Carpenter ants are by no means quiet. If you have good hearing you will probably hear them. You can listen for them near the ceiling, the walls and the floors.
Treating The Problem
If you see upwards of 10 ants in a span of a few hours, you have a problem. It is worth calling pest control. You may have a carpenter ant nest in your house. You can follow the ants and see if they go to a nest. This way you will know where the nest is. If you want to get the carpenter ants to come out, use a little honeydew, honey or any other sweet fruit to attract them. They will come to the bait to have a nibble.
You can identify carpenter ant activity if you see piles of loose wood shavings or sawdust, this may be a sign of a nest nearby. These piles of wood dust are known as frass. It also consists of body parts.
If you see wood damage in the form of slits or holes, this is also a telltale sign that you have carpenter ants.
There are several different treatments you can use for carpenter ants.
1. Boric acid can be sprinkled where the nest is. If you mix it with a bit of powdered sugar – even more powerful. Carpenter ants really love sweet stuff. Or, you can place little amounts in small open containers. Boric acid acts as a stomach poison for the majority of insects. It is best to wear a dust mask, rubber gloves and eye protection when using it. As it is harmful when ingested, be careful to leave it out of the reach of children and pets. Boric acid can be purchased at your local gardening store.
2. Diatomaceous earth also known as silicon dioxide – same stuff that can be used to treat bed bugs, fleas and a host of other pesty insects is also great for carpenter ants. It dehydrates them and dries up their bodies and kills them. Just like with boric acid, be careful to protective when using it. It is very fine and you don’t want to inhale it in your lungs!
3. These powders should be sprinkled over plumbing pipes and wires – the places where they will most likely be. Wherever there is an easy route, carpenter ants will take it. For this reason, they love wall voids. It is worth turning off the power to unscrew the cover plates from electrical switches and outlets to see if there is any activity there. Vacuum these spots up as well as you can.
4. There are many different insecticide dust products on the market, too. Many of these insecticides are powerful and will do a great job. Most dry insecticide is designed for specific insects. Make sure to get the one for carpenter ants. The only thing is they are not safe for children or pets.
5. If the problem persists and you need to take more serious measures, use the toxic bait method. This technique is also terrific if the nest is invisible to you. How it works is the ants will take the bait back to their nest, eat and be poisoned. Within 3 days, the ants should all be dead. Toxic bait comes in a gel and should be mixed with a small amount of milk and sugar. Even if you see ants travelling, you don’t want to start spraying insecticide because it will alarm the other ants that something is wrong and make work against eliminating the problem as they will build more nests and spread their population out. It is best to buy a tamper proof toxic bait if you have small children or pets.
Prevention – Making Sure They Are Gone For Good!
a. Clean up. Get rid of clutter. Seal any faucets or pipes that may cause wood to get moist.
b. Seal your house. Make sure there are no gaps or holes. You can use caulk to seal holes. This will keep your wood dry. It will also keep carpenter ants out!
c. Get rid of any piles of wood or natural debris that they will like near your house. Piles of leaves, weeds, anything of this nature needs to be removed.
Get rid of any old rotting timber near your home as this could also pose a problem. Or, better yet, store any wood that you keep outside on a raised platform. If you have a stack of firewood, just keep it higher so it stays relatively dry. Clogged gutters are also a problem because it allows water to collect. Just do your best to keep your property without decaying wood or puddles of water.
d. Any sugar, jam honey – anything you used as bait to get them out will attract them back. Get rid of it all.
e. Prune your trees.
f. Eliminate moisture in your home. Dehumidify as much as you can.
g. Carpenter ants prefer sap and other insects to jam, honey and sugar. Their favorite flower is peonies. If you have these near your house, it is best to move them further away.
Good luck getting rid of the insect problem. If it persists, call a local exterminator.