Carpenter ants are one of the most common – and destructive – ants in the United States, with over 20 different species found throughout the country. Once they have infested your home, carpenter ants can be difficult to get rid of and can cause structural damage to your home.

The first step to rooting out a carpenter ant infestation is the ability to identify and understand them. We'll take a closer look at these insects, their habits and behaviors. We'll also answer some of the most common questions we hear about carpenter ants, including:

What are carpenter ants?

Carpenter ants are large ants that build nests in wood, chewing their way through wood to construct long tunnels and colonies. While carpenter ants don't eat the cellulose fibers that comprise wood as termites do, they can still cause serious damage to wooden structures – especially when it comes to your home.

What do carpenter ants look like?

Carpenter ants can grow up to ⅝ of an inch in length – considerably larger than many other types of ants. These ants have large mandibles used for both chewing and tunneling through wood. Their bodies have a single-segmented “waist" with only one node, compared to many other ant species that possess two nodes. Another distinguishing feature of a carpenter ant is its heart-shaped head with jointed antennae. Like all ants, carpenter ants have six legs that extend from the thorax.

While this gives a general description of what a carpenter ant may look like, there are variances that differ across species. They can range in color from black to light brown to even red and black.

Additionally, depending on their role in the colony, carpenter ants can have different appearances that give clues to their place in the hierarchy. Knowing which types of carpenter ants you're dealing with is important in terms of a pest control technician identifying an effective removal strategy.

carpenter ant

Carpenter ant workers

Carpenter ant workers are divided into two categories: minor workers and major workers. Major workers often serve double-duty as the colony's soldiers, while minor workers provide food and tend to the colony's young. In many cases, the queen carpenter ant's first brood become the colony's soldiers. Within the hierarchy, carpenter ant workers vary in size between ⅜ to ½ of an inch long. Depending on their species, carpenter ant workers come in different colors that vary from red to brown and black.

Carpenter ant queens

Carpenter ant queens look similar to carpenter ant workers, however, they are much larger – roughly one inch long – and have functional wings. Once the carpenter ant queen has mated, she loses her wings, using her wings and stored fat to feed her offspring. It's quite rare to see a carpenter ant queen, as she stays in a protected location.

Carpenter ant drones

Carpenter ant drones are larger than workers, but smaller than queens. These type of carpenter ants have functional wings which they use to meet a princess midair and mate.

Carpenter ant reproduction and life cycle

During late spring or early summer, winged females (princesses) and winged males (drones) mate. After mating, the male dies, while the female sheds her wings and finds a secluded place to lay eggs.

The female carpenter ant stays there until the eggs hatch, and then those ants grow into adult workers. These workers then emerge and start building a nest. It takes around three to six years to create a full-sized carpenter ant colony. The average carpenter ant colony can have up to 3,000 ants, although some colonies can contain as many as 50,000 or more ants.

The lifecycle and development of a carpenter ant takes between six and 12 weeks. Once carpenter ant eggs hatch, a legless larva emerges. During the pupal stage, they develop into a light tan or yellowish cocoon before emerging as a fully-matured carpenter ant.

Carpenter ant queens can live for up to 20 years while worker ants have a much shorter lifespan of approximately 12 months.

Carpenter ant habitats and behaviors

Carpenter ants are mostly nocturnal. They tend to seek out moist and decaying wood, but can settle in dry wood, as well. These insects build nests by making tunnels in wood. Carpenter ants don't eat wood. Rather, they chew through it and "spit out" a sawdust-like material called frass.

Carpenter ant colony

Carpenter ants establish two types of colonies:

  • Parent colony – where the queen lives together with workers.
  • Satellite colony – where only workers live.

Carpenter ants may establish a parent colony outside your house and create satellite colonies indoors.

Are carpenter ants aggressive?

Fortunately, carpenter ants aren't aggressive. The only reason they would bite a human is to defend themselves, despite the fact that they possess powerful mandibles. Their bites aren't dangerous to humans.

Do carpenter ants have wings and fly?

Only carpenter ant drones, queens (and princesses) have functional wings. Their wings are necessary for mating in midair. Once princesses mate, they shed their wings, using them to feed their young and become queens. By contrast, sterile carpenter ant workers are wingless.

What do carpenter ants eat?

Carpenter ants are omnivores. One of their primary sources of nutrition is honeydew – not the fruit, but rather a substance secreted by aphids and other types of insects. Carpenter ants also feed on plant nectar, and will also munch on fatty meats and sources of protein, or sweet foods like honey and jelly if they make their way inside your home. Carpenter ants have also been known to feast on living or dead insects.

Do people eat carpenter ants?

Carpenter ants are edible insects. In fact, some people consider their eggs a special form of insect caviar that is quite expensive. Since carpenter ants produce formic acid, they have a sour taste.

Can carpenter ants bite or sting people or pets?

Carpenter ants are not aggressive and typically will not attack people or pets. However, they can bite in self-defense, and in some cases, their bites can puncture the skin.

What is the difference between carpenter ants and termites?

Carpenter ants can easily be confused with termites due to the fact that they both lay waste to wood. An easy way to tell them apart is to count the body segments. Termites do not have a "pinched" waist, as carpenter ants do. Additionally, termites are usually lighter than carpenter ants and have straight antennae, while carpenter ants have bent, elbowed antennae.

Termites eat wood while carpenter ants just chew through it in order to build nesting chambers. Carpenter ants are unable to digest cellulose, which is both a key component of wood and a termite's diet.

What is the difference between carpenter ants and fire ants?

Fire ants are reddish-brown while carpenter ants are usually black. Fire ants are more aggressive than carpenter ants, though they also bite in self defense. A fire ant bites to hold onto a victim while it stings, and it's sting can cause an allergic reaction. Fire ants also tend to make their home in dirt mounds while carpenter ants nest in wood.

What is the difference between carpenter ants and black ants?

While some carpenter ants can be black in color, they are an entirely different species than black ants. Black ants are smaller than carpenter ants. They are a serious nuisance to your home. Unlike carpenter ants, they can sting and contaminate food. However, they rarely live inside a home and do not cause structural damage. The only reason black ants come inside is to find food.

Can carpenter ants destroy a house?

Carpenter ants are highly unlikely to destroy a home completely. However, they can cause significant and costly damage to wood. Ignoring a carpenter ant infestation could lead to serious structural problems.

How can I prevent carpenter ants from getting into my home?

There are a few preventive measures you can take to help prevent carpenter ants from nesting in your home and causing damage.

  • Eliminate leaks and repair all moisture-damaged wood. Softer, rotting wood is more appealing to carpenter ants as it's easier for them to tunnel through.
  • Remove decaying wood from your yard. As noted previously, rotting wood is an ideal nesting spot for carpenter ants. As a result, you'll want to trim healthy trees and bushes, as well as remove any dead wood, lumber, or stumps from around your property.
  • Seal entrance points (e.g., cracks in doors and foundation) to your house. This can make it harder for carpenter ants to find their way into your home. How can I find a carpenter ant nest?

How can I find a carpenter nest?

Carpenter ant nests can be difficult to find. You can try tapping on wood surfaces and listening for hollow sounds or following a live carpenter ant on its journey back to the nest. Carpenter ants are most active at night, so this is the best time to look for their activity outdoors.

What are the signs of a carpenter ant infestation?

If you think your home may be infested with carpenter ants, look for the following signs:

  • Live ants crawling in window sills or other areas around the home
  • Wood shavings
  • Rustling noises inside walls

What are the differences between a carpenter ant infestation and a termite infestation?

Although both termites and carpenter ants can cause significant damage to wood structures, there are key differences in their attack that can tip you off as to which pest is in your home.

Carpenter ants will seek out softer, rotting wood as it is easier to tunnel through. They bore through the wood, leaving behind sawdust-like piles of wood shavings. Carpenter ant tunnels are also smooth and clean on the inside.

Termites, on the other hand, will eat through either solid wood or compromised wood, leaving mud tubes from the ground to where they've entered the wood. You may also see termite droppings (called “frass") pushed through these tunnel openings.

How do you get rid of carpenter ants in your home and yard?

In order to control a carpenter ant infestation in your home, you need to find and destroy their nest with the queen inside. To do that, you would need to follow their trails and successfully find the nest, which can be difficult. While it may be possible to do this without professional assistance, DIY methods are rarely 100% effective.

How Terminix® helps you with carpenter ant control

Terminix pest professionals have a deep working knowledge of carpenter ant behaviors and can help correctly identify what pests are causing problems within your home. Terminix uses innovative professional techniques to find carpenter ant nests and help you to remove them from your home. Call us for a free inspection today!