Termites are not the only insect that can damage the wood structures of your home. Carpenter ant colonies may enter homes through gaps in the foundation, cracks around doors and windows or though gas or electrical penetrations into the home. While subterranean termite infestations always start at ground level, carpenter ants are capable of entering at any level of the home by climbing along overhead wires or trees that touch the structure. Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not consume the wood they destroy as a food source; instead the frass (wood debris) is deposited outside of colony entrances. The piles of frass are often one of the first signs, aside from seeing the ants themselves that homeowners encounter during an infestation. Carpenter Ants range in size from ¼ inch to ¾ inch depending on their role in the colony and species. They vary in color from reddish brown to black or a combination thereof. Fifty species of carpenter ants inhabit the United States, 26 of those have been found nesting inside of structures. Although some activity occurs during daylight hours, primary activity is from dusk until dawn. Carpenter ants feed on honeydew created by insects such as aphids, plant and fruit juices, as well as other insects and arthropods. Indoors, they tend to feed on sweets including cakes and protein sources such as eggs and meats as well as grease. Foraging occurs up to 300 feet from the nest. Carpenter ants cannot sting; however, they are capable of defending themselves with bites from their large mandibles, injecting formic acid into the skin which may cause allergic type reactions.
Typically attacking wood that is moist, decaying or infested with mold, carpenter ants will move on to nearby wood regardless of previous damage. Due to the recent wildfires here in Colorado Springs, increases in carpenter ant activity are likely in Black Forest as well as the Waldo Canyon burn area due to the downed timber. Damage is frequently found in pillars, roofs, window sill, rotting logs or stumps, utility poles and both live and dead trees. Indications of damage may vary and include frass, wood that has smooth tunnels through it, hollow sounding wood that can be easily penetrated with the tip of a knife or similar object and faint rustling sounds from within infested areas and the presence of the ants themselves including swarmers (winged reproductive stage) which typically appear in the May through August or following high amounts of moisture. Colonies that are producing swarmers have been present for a minimum of 2 years, often longer. An established colony may have up to 15,000 workers including those in satellite colonies.
Homeowners can take an active role in protecting their home. Keeping branches and shrubs trimmed back from the home as well as sealing gaps around the foundation, doors, windows, and utility penetrations will help to prevent access to the home. Replacement or removal of damaged wood including stumps and dead trees within fifty (50) feet of the home is highly recommended. Firewood should be stored off the ground and away from the home whenever possible. Always inspect wood prior to bringing it into the home and discard infested pieces. During routine property maintenance or when an infestation is suspected, residents should note where activity is being seen, potential entry points and activity sources as this information is helpful to a pest professional in order to determine the location of nests.
Treatment for carpenter ants begins with a thorough interior and exterior inspection of the home in order to locate parent nests and satellite colonies, in the event that nests are located, they can be treated directly; however, when nests are not able to be located, strategic placement of baits in areas where foraging trails are present will enable treatment of the colony without an exact nest location. A highly trained, knowledgeable pest professional is the best weapon a homeowner has against pest invasion. Improperly applied or inappropriate products typically result in negative results where pests are concerned.