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How to Know if I Have Carpenter Ants?

Will Carpenter Ants Destroy my House?


How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants?


Make no mistake about it, carpenter ants can cause a lot of damage – sometimes more than termites.  It is easier to fix the problem now than to wait and have more damage.

If you think you might have carpenter ants, read on. The information below makes it easy to figure out if you do, or do not, have carpenter ants.


Then, if you determine that you do have an infestation, you should exterminate the ants as soon as possible.  If these pests are found and treated early, the damage can be stopped. If you wait, the damage will only get worse – they don’t ‘just go away’.


What Do Carpenter Ants Look Like?

The first two things to look for are the ant’s the size and color. Carpenter ants are among the largest ants in Pennsylvania – they are typically, about ¼- ½ inch in length.  They are mostly black and brown but can also have some yellow and red markings – or a combination of these colors.

If the ants you are seeing fit the description above, it’s likely that you do have carpenter ants. But to be sure, look a little closer.

Your sense-of-urgency should be much higher if you have carpenter ants (or termites) then if you have an infestation of non-wood-damaging ants – such as Pavement Ants, Pharaoh Ants, or Crazy Ants.

Look for the following features to better determine if you have carpenter ants:

  • Carpenter ants have heart-shaped heads – they are large and round at the top and come to a point at the ‘mouth’ (look at the carpenter ant in the foreground and you’ll see what I mean). Other ants in Pennsylvania have round heads.
  • If the ants you have spotted have the traits noted above AND have heart-shaped heads, you can now be certain that you are looking at carpenter ants.

Keep in mind, one type of ant can be easily mistaken for another – sometimes an ant may look to be small but it might just be young. An ant’s body parts can get damaged and not look exactly like the ants in these pictures. The more features you can identify, the better.


Carpenter Ants or Termites?

People often mistake carpenter ants for termites (and vice versa). More importantly, the extermination process for carpenter ants is completely different than it is for termites – you need to know which is which in order to determine how to get rid of the carpenter ants.

To positively tell the difference between termites and carpenter ants, take another look at your bug. Carpenter ants have a skinny “waist”, Termites do not.

Look at the guy in the foreground, of the 2nd picture, again – it looks like he has a big “butt”, then a skinny “waist” between his butt and “chest”.  This skinny waist tells you that you are not looking at a termite – it’s a carpenter ant.

Another way to tell the difference between carpenter ants and termites is to look at the antennas. Carpenter ants have bent antennas and termites have straight antennas.  You can see the differences in body shapes and antennas in the picture on the right.


What’s Worse – Termites or Carpenter Ants?

Both carpenter ants and termites can cause serious damage to wood – but there are differences. If I had to choose, I would say termites are worse – but maybe not for the reasons you would expect!

In reality, carpenter ants can destroy wood in a house as effectively as termites. However, there are more signs of carpenter ant activity than there is for termites. Termites can be a bigger problem because, very often, you don’t know that damage is occurring for many years.

With carpenter ants, depending on the location, you can sometimes see the worker-ants and the ‘saw dust’ they produce. You may also see small entry and exit holes in the wood. These are all tell-tale signs that you have a wood destroying insect problem.

On the flip side, termites cannot live in sunlight for more than a few minutes. Therefore, they will not chew through, for example, wood paneling – they will eat away at the backside of the paneling without breaking through into the room.  They can also eat the wood studs inside the walls and the joists in the floor or ceiling while avoiding the sunlight (and detection).


Why Termites are Worse than Carpenter Ants:
We had a customer with a bookshelf that was built into a wall. The termites had been feeding on the studs & paneling, then made their way through the wall and into the back of the bookcase. The then chewed the pages and destroyed about six of the books – without ever breaking through to daylight.
One day, their 4-year old daughter knocked a couple of the books off of the shelf and the damage was discovered.
This damage occurred over many years but the homeowners had no way of knowing.


Why are carpenter ants in my house?

Contrary to popular belief, carpenter ants do NOT eat the wood they damage. They do not need wood as a food source, they need wood for their nests.

Carpenter ants are like miniature groundhogs – they “excavate” soft wood to create open voids where they will build their nests. Their food is typically from sugar and protein, and they are attracted to any bits of fruit, sweets, or crumbs that they find.

Carpenter ants find their way indoors in search of moist conditions – often caused by a leaking pipe, roof leak, or water that has seeped into the house from outside. When they find moist wood in your house, they will thank you – by building a new nest.

Carpenter ants most often have multiple nests – a “Parent Nest” and “Satellite Nests.” Indoor nests are most often satellite nests of the parent nest.  The parent nest is most often outside and could be in a woodpile, a living or dead tree, other wood or even in the ground. These nests can be over 100 yards away from each other. Killing one satellite nest will help your problem but, it will not eliminate all of the nests.  Therefore, you should continue to watch for signs of a re-infestation.


Do carpenter ants cause damage?

The answer is “Yes” -that’s their job.  They constantly work to hollow-out wood. They will either make new nests or expand the size of existing nests.

Damage caused by carpenter ants can be a threat to the structural stability of a home or building.  Carpenter ants destroy wood by literally excavating through it using their ‘mandibles’ or jaws. They commonly nest in insulation, hollow doors, and wall voids, but rarely dry wood. Sometimes it appears as though there is no damage on the surface of the wood, but a hollowed-out space could be hiding an infestation inside. When a carpenter ant infestation is severe, you’ll find piles of fibrous saw dust beneath wooden items.

Will Carpenter Ants kill a Tree?

It is very common to see ants climbing up and down trees. Some ants are perfectly harmless to the tree and others can be a problem.

Carpenter ants can damage a tree. They will build nests and colonize in a tree with moist, decaying wood – and they will further weaken the tree. Just to clarify, the ants didn’t cause the tree to decay or be otherwise unhealthy – the ants are opportunistic – the tree had rotting wood before they called in home.

However, the presence and activity of these ants can inhibit the trees ability to heal itself, leading to a more rapid decline in the tree’s heath.

A bigger problem may be the possibility that the ants could get into your house, shed, or other buildings. Carpenter ant colonies continually grow and spread-out to make satellite nests. If the ants can get into your house, they will be looking for moist wood and will begin to damage to the structure.

What are the signs of carpenter ants in your house?

The most obvious sign of a carpenter ant infestation is the presence of colony workers inside a home or building – but that doesn’t mean the nest is nearby – it could be several hundred feet away. If a carpenter ant infestation is severe, a faint rustling sound could indicate carpenter ants are inside woodwork or walls. If you see an ant emerging from walls, ceilings, or other crevices (including points of entry like vents, foundations, cracks, pipes and wires) – an infestation is very likely.

The ‘saw dust’ that Carpenter Ants make can also be a warning sign of  activity. You will typically see a small pile(s) of fine textured sawdust.

How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants?

If you are still reading this, you have probably determined that you have a problem with Carpenter Ants. Now, the question is, what do you do?  Due to the amount of damage these pests can cause (and may have already caused), the best option may be to contact a pest control company. However, if you choose to DIY, read on.

If you have not yet found the nest, watch where the ants are going. (Keep in mind that these ants are nocturnal). Follow the ants to determine where they enter and exit their nest. This can be tricky but finding the nest will definitely help your chances of success. If you don’t eliminate the nest, the ants will come back.

Carpenter ants can be treated with a “non-repellant” insect spray. Non-repellant products are not detected by the ants – which makes them more effective. If a material that is a repellant is used, the ants will stay away from the spray and find another way into your house. The treatments can be “barrier” treatments – where the perimeter of your house is treated. Treating the ground where it meets the house and a few feet up the house can be effective for ants that are crawling on the ground. Keep in mind, finding and treating the nest is the only reliable way to ensure the control.

How Much Does it Cost to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants?

Again, the damage from Carpenter Ants can be extensive and hiring a qualified pest control company may be your best option. At Green Giant, we charge $225. for a typical infestation. The price can increase depending on the severity of the infestation – but most often, it is $225.

The carpenter ant control service includes two visits from a licensed technician. During the first visit, the technician will do the detective work & find the nest. He will also determine the best approach to exterminating the Carpenter Ant nest and perform the service. This will begin to eliminate the colony. It takes up to a week for the worker ants to move the material to the rest of the colony.

During the second visit, the technician will inspect and, if necessary, provide any additional treatment that is needed. Our services are guaranteed.

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$47.75 price includes an initial inspection and treatment of your ant infestation and our guarantee*. Includes nuisance infestations of carpenter ants. Heavy carpenter ant infestations will incur additional cost. Click here for more details.


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