Common Name: Carpenter Ants
Scientific Name: Camponotus
There are 14 different species of carpenter ants in Texas, the largest being the black carpenter ant, camponotus pennsylvanicus. Carpenter ants are named after their nest building trait. Unlike termites, they do not eat the wood, instead they excavate wood and form tunnels inside of wood including support beams of homes. They do this for the purpose of creating nests inside of the wood they tunnel through. Their diet consists of sweets, a favorite being decaying fruit, but they also feed on other insects that are dead or alive.
Outdoors, carpenter ants do not pose much risk to homeowners other than hollowing out tree limbs and branches which can break and damage structures or other valuables. The biggest risk comes when these ants move inside in search of food. The main species of carpenter ants found inside homes in Texas are camponotus rasilis and have red bodies with black abdomenes. Seeing multiple carpenter ants in or around a structure can indicate quite a few things such as moisture, rotting wood and other conducive conditions being present. (Conducive conditions are structural or environmental conditions that can cause pest infestations due to providing pests with necessities such as food, water or shelter.)
Besides a “parent” nest (typically the main nest where the queen lives), carpenter ants also make satellite nests. Satellite nests contain older larvae and pupae that have been carried there by the workers to complete their metamorphosis to grow to be adult workers.
Did You Know?
Carpenter ants, as well as termites, will become dormant as their metabolism slows during cold weather which is why they are not usually active during the winter season. Their dormancy is called a diapause, and is similar to hibernation. Unlike hibernation where a species will not be active at all during that phase, ants and termites during a diapause will become active if the climate increases and go back into diapause when the climate decreases. In some cases, ants or termites may not diapause at all if they have found a warm place to live (usually inside a home) and therefore will still be active during the winter.
Castes: Roles of Carpenter Ants
Ant colonies are part of a social structure called a caste, much similar to a hierarchy, placing certain ants in different roles. There are 4 main roles: Queens, Drones, Workers and Reproductives. Each colony has only one functional queen, with the queen's main purpose being to populate the colony by laying eggs. The drones only purpose is to reproduce with the queen, and die after mating with her! Workers are females that are not queens (and can’t lay eggs), and are the ones typically seen in homes as they forage for food and maintain the colony. Reproductives can be either male or female, and their purpose is to leave the nest to establish new colonies by flying (referred to as swarmers or alates in this stage) off to a new location. The females shed their wings to become queens while the males die after reproducing with the female swarmers.
Identify a Carpenter Ant
To identify a carpenter ant, look at the size and coloring of the ant in question. Carpenter ants are larger in size compared to most ants. Adult worker ants vary in length from about ¼ of an inch and ⅝ of an inch. The reproductives (swarmers/alates) which have wings, are typically ¾ of an inch in length. Carpenter ants range in color from yellowish red, solid black or a combination of black, red, and reddish orange. They only have one segment between the thorax and abdomen with an evenly rounded thorax.
Differences Between Carpenter Ants and Termites
The reproductives of carpenter ants are easy to tell apart from the reproductives of termites. This is because the wings of a reproductive carpenter ant are unequal in length, with the front pair of wings being longer than the hind pair. Whereas a termites' set of wings are all the same length. The antennae of carpenter ants are bent, like elbows, right in the middle and termites antennae are straight. In the image below, can you tell which is the ant and which is the termite? Ants are on the left and the termites are on the right!
1. Do carpenter ants bite?
Yes. They have powerful jaws that pack a painful bite that may inject a formic acid. The formic acid doesn’t pose a significant health threat but can create a burning sensation.
2. How do you get rid of carpenter ants?
Both the parent and satellite nests need to be located to prevent reinfestation. Do-it-yourself methods are not recommended, as the parent and satellite nests can be difficult to find without professional training. Blessed Pest Control uses integrated pest management and control methods to target multiple areas for infestations.
3. How can I tell if I have carpenter ants or termites?
Spotting large (½ inch) wingless ants is usually the 1st indication of a carpenter ant infestation. Seeing a small pile of frass (sawdust like material) with dead ants mixed in is another great indicator that you have ants instead of termites. It is highly recommended calling a professional for a second opinion, and Blessed Pest Control offers a free inspection for both carpenter ants and termites to keep you feeling comfortable in your home.
4. How can I prevent carpenter ants from infesting my home?
Reduce conducive conditions such as damp, damaged or dying stumps/logs/branches/trees from your yard. Keep your rain gutters free of debris and ensure water is draining away. Keep your tree branches at least 3 feet away from your home or roofline, and keep firewood or other wooden building materials away from the side of your home. Maintaining a preventative pest control service can highly reduce your chances of an infestation ever beginning.
5. How much damage can carpenter ants cause?
They can cause several thousands of dollars in damage to your home or structure, especially if left unchecked. Inspections for wood destroying insects such as carpenter ants are recommended annually.
Fun Facts About Carpenter Ants
1. Carpenter ants are very clean creatures! They create their own disinfectant by working together to collect resin that’s used to chemically disinfect their nests and their food. They also remove rotten food and dead ants from their nests.
2. Some species of carpenter ants commit a suicide sacrifice in order to save their nest. If their nest is being attacked, they will literally blow their own selves up as a sacrifice and a means to kill their attacker. How this is physically done is also very interesting, as the ants have large mandibles (basically their pinchers) that they use to pop their gaster (basically their stomach). When popped, chemical secretions are released that cripple their attacker.
3. Carpenter ants have no lungs! Instead of lungs they have tiny holes spread over their bodies to inhale oxygen.
4. Carpenter ants and termites are natural enemies. Who wins in a fight? That depends, but carpenter ants will kill and eat termites if they have their way.
5. There are 18 different carpenter ant species found in Texas.
6. Carpenter ants don’t have eyesight. Instead they secrete pheromones that are used as signals to their peers for instructions for where to go and what to do. Some signals include mating, food, shelter and danger.