Carpenter ants vary in color and size, but they are typically dark colored and anywhere from ¼ to ½ inch in length. These fairly large ants cause structural damage by creating hollows in wood for nesting. The areas they hollow out will tend to have a very smooth internal surface and the debris from their burrowing, when visible, looks like sawdust or small pieces of shredded wood. This debris is expelled through cracks or slits created by the ants but often goes unnoticed because it may be hidden from view such as in a wall cavity. These ants eat parts of other dead insects, secretions from certain plants and a sweet “honey dew” excreted by aphids. Parts of the dead insects will often be seen in the wood debris.
Carpenter ants prefer moist wood but can be found in dry wood as well. Nests are most likely to be found in wood that is damp from water leaks from sinks, tubs, roofs and any other area that is moist. They are commonly found in hollow voids such as walls behind refrigerators and dishwashers, hollow columns and other areas affected by water. Since damage can often be hidden, if infestation is suspected in an area, tapping on the surface will cause a “crackling” sound if the ants are nesting nearby.
Similar to termites, Carpenter ants swarm in the spring and the winged reproductives can emerge inside a structure as well as outside. Swarming indicates a mature colony is nesting somewhere in the structure and means damage has already occurred. If you see a swarm or debris, it’s best to call a professional pest control company to assess the damage and level of infestation. Once the degree of infestation is determined, they can provide a treatment plan to get rid of these pests and stop the damage.