When carpenter ants begin to damage your property, it can be subtle. While these ants can be seen crawling around on exterior structures, driveways, pathways, and on other surfaces, most of the workers in a carpenter ant colony will stay hidden until it is dark outside. This is when they explore your landscaping for food sources, such as sweet honeydew left by aphids, scales, and other insects. This is only one of the many ways carpenter ants behave in a secretive manner. But if you know what signs to look for, where to look for them, and when to look, you may uncover an infestation.
1. One Ant
All it takes is one carpenter ant to alert you to an infestation that is damaging your home. If you see a big ant crawling around inside your home, take a closer look. Carpenter ants are large. They tend to be around ⅝ of an inch long but, depending on the species, they can be as small as ¼ of an inch. If you're able to catch the ant with a piece of clear tape, you might be able to use a magnifying glass and get one more clue. Carpenter ants have one node between the thorax and abdomen.
2. Varied Sizes
If you've found a group of carpenter ants outside of your home, or you've disturbed a nest and had a bunch of these ants come out of hiding, you may be able to use this to your advantage. Carpenter ant workers are polymorphic. All of the workers are not the same size. Some can be twice as large as others.
3. Inspect Wood Sources
Carpenter ants are drawn to wood piles, stumps, logs, trees with heart rot, fences, porches, and more. If you inspect wood for holes and trenches, you may uncover the evidence you're looking for. Carpenter ant tunnels (which look like trenches when uncovered) are smooth to the touch. If you find trenches that are gritty or sandy, those are exposed termite tunnels.
When carpenter ants create extensive tunnels in your home, they have to do something with all the sawdust they produce. This is pushed out of tiny kickout holes along with feces and insect parts. This material is called frass. You may find frass below boards that have these tiny holes, but more often you'll see frass coming out of gaps, cracks, recess, and larger holes. This is because carpenter ants prefer to be in dark places and will try to get deep inside your walls.
If you have a carpenter ant infestation, you may see damage. Do routine checks of all the exterior wood of your home, especially door and window frames. If you see holes developing, this bears closer examination. Also, look for cracks and indentations in wood. Over time, damage will turn from subtle to obvious. Carpenter ants can make your floors sag down and your walls begin to bulge.
6. Winged Ants
This is perhaps the most obvious warning sign of a carpenter ant infestation, yet it is sometimes misinterpreted. If you find large ants with wings crawling around on your interior windows, there are a few things you should know:
It is unlikely that those ants came into your home from the outside.
It is highly likely that you have a carpenter ant nest in your home.
If you have a nest, it has been in your home for more than three years.
Those winged ants are male and female reproductives. Their job is to make more nests. If they do this inside your home, your problem will get worse.
When carpenter ants mate, they shed wings. If you come home and find wings lying on a window sill, there are a few things you should know:
Those wings are on your window sill because winged carpenter ants are attracted to light. When they emerged inside, they headed toward your window panes to get out at the light.
If you have wings inside your home, and you don't see large ants crawling around, that means they're in your home establishing themselves.
It is definitely time to call a professional.
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