What Do Carpenter Ants Look Like?

What do carpenter ants look like? Picture your typical tiny black ants growing up to 16 times bigger, then give them large, powerful mandibles and a penchant for chewing through and nesting in wood. Still need some more information? Check out these frequently asked questions about how to identify carpenter ants.

What do carpenter ants look like?

Carpenter ants are some of the largest ants in North America. Depending on the species, they can measure anywhere between one-eighth and five-eighths of an inch long. In one colony, there are many different size ants, depending on their age and function. The species also dictates the color of the carpenter ant. For example, Camponotus modoc is all black with dark red legs. Camponotus vicinus can be red, black or brown. There’s even a species of yellow and black carpenter ant, called Camponotus clarithorax. Their bodies are covered with tiny sensory hairs.

What's the easiest way to identify carpenter ants?

Carpenter ant identification isn’t just about size and color. Why? Because a winged carpenter queen can measure as long as 1 inch and differ in color from a much smaller worker from the same nest. A much more efficient way to learn how to identify carpenter ants is to learn a little bit more about their bodies, nests and secondary signs. Carpenter ants have only one bump – or node – on their single-segmented, narrow waist. Some other species of ants have two nodes or more than one segment. Carpenter ants also have a rounded, smooth back, and heart-shaped head with powerful mandibles and elbowed antennae (Fig. 1). On winged carpenter ants – called alates – the front pair of wings is longer than the back pair of wings.

What does a carpenter ant nest look like?

Indoor carpenter ant nests are unique in the fact that most are satellite colonies of a larger, outdoor nest. Indoors, they’ll nest in wall voids, windows, insulation, chimneys, hollow doors and compromised wood. Outdoors, they might nest in hardwood stumps and dead trees. The ants typically enter areas of wood in and around the home that are decayed or water-damaged. From there, the carpenter ants chew through the wood, leaving wood shavings similar to those from a pencil sharpener. Carpenter ants don’t actually eat the wood, but rather, they excavate it. Look for these shavings near any holes or openings you find, to help in identifying carpenter ants. It's also common to find dead ant body parts intermingled with the shavings. Since the nests are burrowed inside the wood, you won’t often see the intricate tunnel system they build (Fig. 2). However, if you knock on an area of wood containing a mature carpenter ant nest, you’ll likely hear a hollow sound.

How can you tell the difference between carpenter ants and termites?

There are clear distinctions to be made between a flying ant (other species of ants also fly) and a termite. Ants have a narrower, constricted waist, while termites are shaped like a rectangle and have no constrictions. Ant antennae are segmented and clubbed (i.e., bent or elbowed), while termite antennae are straight and look like a string of beads. Ant wings differ in size, the two front wings being longer and larger than the two hind wings. Termite wings are much longer than the termite’s body, and all four are equal in size.

Now that you know how to identify a carpenter ant, your next step is getting rid of the problem. Whether the menace you found is a termite or ant, it doesn’t belong in your home. Call Terminix®.