Carpenter ants are considered pests due to their potential to damage wooden structures, so it’s important to take action if you suspect an infestation in your home or property. Infestations typically start with a “home nest” in an old stump or decaying wood eventually branching off into various “satellite nets” in search for food.
Places with a lot of vegetation and moisture are their preferred habitat, but it’s not uncommon to find them around the foundations of your house and patio. Sometimes they come indoors and sneak under the carpets.
You need to keep your eyes open for these pests and pursue quick treatment if you find them. Without immediate action, you may face extremely costly home repairs further down the line.
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This short documentary shows just how much damage carpenter ants and other wood-boring insects can cause to homes:
What are Carpenter Ants?
Carpenter ants are large ants that are known for their ability to excavate wood to create nests. They are commonly found in forested areas and can also infest wooden structures, making them a significant nuisance pest. Here are some key characteristics and facts about carpenter ants:
- Appearance: Carpenter ants are usually larger than other ant species, with adults ranging from about 1/4 to 1/2 inch (6 to 13 mm) in length. They are typically black, red, or a combination of black and red. Carpenter ants have a distinct segmented body with a narrow “waist.”
- Behavior: Unlike termites, which actually consume wood, carpenter ants do not eat wood. Instead, they excavate galleries and tunnels in wood to create nests. They remove wood to create space for their colonies, which can lead to structural damage in homes and other buildings.
- Nesting: Carpenter ants prefer damp or decaying wood for nesting, but they can also infest dry wood. They often establish their nests in areas like tree stumps, logs, wooden structures, and even within wall voids of buildings. Nests can be extensive and contain multiple chambers and tunnels.
- Diet: Carpenter ants primarily feed on sugary substances, insects, and other small organisms. They forage for food and bring it back to their nests to feed the colony.
- Lifecycle: Like other ant species, carpenter ants go through complete metamorphosis, with eggs hatching into larvae, which then pupate and develop into adult ants. Colonies can contain workers, queens, and male ants.
- Damage: While carpenter ants do not consume wood as termites do, their nest-building activities can weaken and damage wooden structures over time. If left unchecked, a carpenter ant infestation can lead to significant structural problems.
- Control: Controlling carpenter ant infestations typically involves locating and eliminating the nest(s). This may require the expertise of a pest control professional who can identify the nest’s location and apply appropriate treatments to eradicate the colony. Preventative measures include addressing moisture issues and sealing any cracks or openings in the structure that might allow ants to enter.
How Do I Identify Carpenter Ants?
Carpenter ants are large ants with distinct physical characteristics. They’re often black, reddish-brown, or a combination of black and red. Some species may be entirely black, while others may have lighter or darker variations in color.
Did You Know
Carpenter ants are some of the largest ants in the U.S., sometimes reaching up to 13 mm in length!
They have a well-defined segmented body with a narrow “waist” between the thorax (middle section) and abdomen (rear section) – one of the key distinguishing features of ants.
Most carpenter ants live outdoors in hollow wood and sometimes go indoors to nest in places with a lot of moisture. They prefer to live in and around the wood they’ve tunneled into. This is important because, unlike other species, they can actually cause significant damage if left untreated.
What Are Signs of a Carpenter Ant Infestation?
The biggest sign is that they’re large and you tend to see a lot of wood shavings (“frass”) near their nest. Large workers and several winged swarmers are also another sign. The latter suggests that the colony is mature and is about to reproduce. If you see this, in combination with the other characteristics, it’s time to take action. You can learn more about identifying carpenter ants here.
Some people may confuse carpenter ants with termites. The key difference is that termites eat wood whereas ants burrow through it. Click here for more on the differences between carpenter ants and termites. Then, watch the video below to learn more about carpenter ant warning signs:
How to Control Carpenter Ants
In order to know how to control carpenter ants, you first need to know what carpenter ants like to eat. If you can eliminate their preferred food source, then you can reduce the chances that these ants will decide to make your home their home.
Take a look at the below video for more carpenter ant tips.
Carpenter ants tend to have varied diets, which makes them tough to nail down with one type of trap.
For example, a known food source that carpenter ants like to eat is aphid honeydew. This is a sweet liquid secreted by aphids living on shrubbery. Keeping bushes and shrubs at least a foot away from your home can significantly help with prevention in this area.
Curious about termite diets? Click here for our list of 15 things termites like to eat.
If you suspect that you have a carpenter ant problem, it’s important that you find the nest quickly and treat it.
A common method to finding a carpenter nest includes leaving out something sweet near the suspected location. When left out, ants may begin a trail to it. The trail will likely lead back to a colony, where you can begin baiting more effectively.
Be careful when you find the nest as the ants bite with their large mandibles and may release a formic acid.
When you DO find the nest, baits have been documented as one of the best carpenter ant-killing methods.
You also need to take preventative measures in conjunction with destroying the colony, which may include:
- Removing any moist decaying wood from around your property
- Moving stacks of wood (decayed or not) away from your property
- Inspecting nearby stumps for ant colonies
- Sealing entryways (cracks and crevices) into your house
Types of Carpenter Ant Killers
By now, you understand that carpenter ants can cause serious damage to your property if you don’t treat them. This means that you should quickly invest in powerful killers as soon as you identify that they’re carpenters. Some still swear by homemade methods, despite them not having much effect. Let’s take a quick look at both.
Homemade Remedies For Carpenter Ants
There are two common homemade treatments for carpenter ants.
The first uses vinegar as an acidic composition that deters ants. You should mix it with water in equal amounts. A lot of people use this, but it’s not very effective.
The second popular homemade solution uses boric acid combined with a sweet solution (jelly or honey) as an attractant and has more success. The acid kills the ants on contact. This does work, but it’s a short-term solution and has no effect against the majority of ants that you can’t see.
Baits and Sprays For Carpenter Ants
Trust me on this, you need to buy ant products that actually work. It may be an expensive upfront cost, but compared to the amount you would save if the infestation grew and destroyed your property.
Most baits use a slow-acting insecticide (borax is one of the most popular slow-acting ingredients) that can be picked up and brought back to the queen ant before killing the worker ant.
Baiting produces results because it’s fed to the queen and disrupts the reproductive cycles of ants in the nest.
When you use bait, never disturb the nest before using it. This causes the ants to scatter and it won’t kill them all, and the infestation may start again somewhere else around your house.
Another option is to use a repellent aerosol around the perimeter of your house. This works best in combination with baiting to kill the colony and to stop any coming back.
Our Review of the Best Carpenter Ant Killers
More or less all the products we reviewed were very effective at killing carpenter ants, but our decision came down to versatility of the traps and their ease of use combined with what you get for your money.
Here are five of the best carpenter ants killers that usually work in the long-term.
- Syngenta Ant Bait Gel (our #1 pick)
- TERRO Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits (our #2 pick)
- Zap-A-Roach Boric Acid
- Advance Carpenter Ant Bait
The sections below cover in-depth pros and cons of each product.
Syngenta Ant Bait Gel
The use of bait gels is a preferred method for treating carpenter ants within a home or business. This bait gel by Syngenta contains a highly attractive material that lures ants easily. It also has one of the most potent active ingredients available to eliminate most infestations quickly.
To use, place in cracks, crevices, and voids where carpenter ants invade. Baits are useful for getting carpenter ants out of trees and homes. The workers pick it up and eventually feed the queen as well as the rest of the colony.
TERRO Outdoor Liquid Ant Baits
One of the most well-known brands in ant control, TERRO delivers a quality product that gets results.
We especially liked this product due to the self-contained weather resistant bait containers that can be placed just about anywhere.
The liquid baits use a sugar based bait to attract carpenter ants and borax to provide the killing punch. The slow acting insecticide easily spreads throughout the colony and kills the ants you can and can’t see. This is one of the most effective and consistent long-term solutions on the market.
Each package comes with 6 bait traps, which you can disburse around the perimeter of your house.
Some of the traps have ramps and/or mini-stairs to help the ants travel in and out of the container.
Zap-A-Roach Boric Acid
A non-repellent insecticide such as boric acid works well to treat and prevent carpenter ants inside wall voids and other enclosed spaces. Consider Zap-A-Roach Boric Acid as your first choice.
It contains 100 percent boric acid dust, and it comes in a convenient squeeze bottle that can double as an applicator for crack and crevice treatments.
The high residual effects of this dry powder are well-understood by DIY homeowners and professionals. It’s also reliably safe when applied according to label directions.
Advance Carpenter Ant Bait
Advance Carpenter Ant Bait is a protein/fat granule bait with the active ingredient “abamectin” that’s been highly rated, relatively nontoxic, and effective at taking care of carpenter ant problems.
This product is weather-resistant and well-suited for outdoor use. Just apply the granules where you suspect the carpenter ants are coming from (around dead trees, wood piles, stumps, etc) and you should eventually find dead ants as a result.
Now that you know more about carpenter ants and treatment options, you’re better equipped to handle potential infestations. Remember that carpenter ants can be destructive, and if left unaddressed, they can cause structural damage. If your DIY efforts are not effective, or if the infestation persists, it’s advisable to seek professional assistance to ensure complete removal and prevention of future infestations.
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