bed bugs

Carpenter ants

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by The Bug Doctor

It’s a shame that where I live now we really don’t have a huge carpenter ant problem. Not to say that we don’t have them around, we do and at times a home in the south east can be over run. In Florida however the carpenter ant is not as destructive nor as much of a challenge as they can be in the more northern states. Most of my work and experience for this ant came from Maryland and on the Pacific west coast.

Carpenter ants are some of the largest we have to deal with and their complex colony structure can frustrate a homeowner who thinks that they have found and destroyed THE nest only to be disappointed when the activity resumes or never goes away. To rid a structure of this wood destroying insect you’ll need to be armed with the knowledge of how they operate and what their needs are or you may be in for a long losing battle.

Foragers are the main culprit that most people see. These ants are usually the older more expendable ants in thePicture 17 150x150 Carpenter ants colony so killing a trail of them really does no damage to the colony. Searching for food is a dangerous job and this species of ant chooses to send out those that are past their usefulness inside the nest and may die soon anyway. When we think of trailing ants we picture long orderly lines trailing along but the carpenter ant is not so obvious. Their trails can go underground, pop up along a fence line, across a wire and up the downspout and seem to make no sense. While they do use pheromones for others to follow, at times they can be so scattered across a yard that no established trail is obvious. Night time is the best time to look for active ants and they peak rather late so get ready to lose an hour or two of sleep if you go looking. Following a forager takes a long time and with their winding trails you may not be sure if they’re coming or going. It’s best to find one that has found food and is carrying it back to the nest to save time. You can attempt to bait the ants ahead of time and this can work but the carpenter ants are finicky and may show no interest in your free food at all. Cut up crickets work the best (I’ve found) to entice them to take the bait and head back to the nest.

Picture 14 300x227 Carpenter ants Frass is always a tell tale sign of a nest. Frass is the shavings and debris these ants have hewed out of the wood they are in and they have what is called a “window” where they discard it. They’re very clean insects and their nest sight is usually smoothed as if it has been sanded. This ‘sawdust’ as it is also referred to builds up in a pile under the window outside the nest and indicates the colonies presence. Other ants have windows and do this too but if you look closely at the wood shavings you should be able to tell the difference. Carpenter ant frass is pretty much uniform in size and has a curved shape like your fingernail tips. The reason for the curve is the way their mandibles scrape the wood fibers as they pull the wood apart. Picture a pair of tiny curved pliers and that’s much like the tool a carpenter ant uses.

Nests of the carpenter ant can be just about anywhere. Although their name suggests they live exclusively in wood this is not true. I have found them in insulation (especially foam board), boxes, car seats, under lawn decor and in mulch beds to name but a few sites. The one key factor is that moisture is not far away and that the site can become big enough in time to house many ants. Of course they love the good old floor joists or wall stud as well so be prepared for just about any location. The other aspect about carpenter ant nests is that they almost always have satellite nests. This behavior is most likely for colony preservation and it’s not uncommon for a colony to have up to 7 nest sites. Each site will have established trails one to another and they will also connect to thePicture 131 300x215 Carpenter ants main site or ‘mothers nest.’ This is a major find if you can locate it because it will have the primary queen but it is almost always the one that is buried deep in a stump or high in an attic and hard to find. Eradicating this nest goes a long way to control but the satellite colonies are prepared to take over in this event. Not all of the other nests necessarily but at least a couple will have secondary queens ready to go should the queen die or they get cut off from the primary home. These supplementary queens also lay eggs even while the queen reigns so they may not even skip a beat if the mothers nest goes down.

Control use to mean the heavy application of pesticides like Knox out or Kill Master. Carpenter ant jobs were treated like termite work and holes would be drilled through the siding and in between each stud up around the eaves and the liquid would be injected. As gravity would take it down the void would be coated and thus made unlivable for the ant. Baits have come along but are difficult at times to get the ant to accept. Today’s most effective tools are the non-repellant sprays like Termidor that are sprayed on the foundation and base of the home. The foragers pick this up and do the work for you by taking the product back to the nest and the habits of the ants cleaning each other or touching spread it around the colony and soon thereafter the colony collapses. For quick control in known nest sites you can drill a void and inject any number of products or even foam the galleries. Maintenance services using dusts on the exterior voids are always a good way to go as well.

Picture 18 300x205 Carpenter ants In Florida the carpenter ant is not nearly the menace as it is for our friends up north. Here you could have a swarm of them on the kitchen table and they are not considered a wood destroying insect. (because the carpenter ant here needs wet already damaged wood and causes no damage to sound dry wood) In Portland Oregon or Baltimore however you can’t even sell your home if the inspector finds but one lone carpenter ant dead on the basement floor. The difference in ant damage may be a good thing depending on where you live but the treatments with our modern products is much the same all over. In either case the carpenter ant can be a huge problem invading your house so knowing what to look for and how to get rid of them is a good thing no matter where you live.


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  • http://nopests.com JP McHale Pest Management

    nice article, very detailed. We see a lot of carpenter ants in Westchester, NY.

  • http://nopests.com JP McHale Pest Management

    nice article, very detailed. We see a lot of carpenter ants in Westchester, NY.

  • The Bug Doctor

    Thanks for the kind word. Has the treatment for these guys gotten less challenging over the years for you? When I moved here I find less C-ant challenges and bee work is only occasionally a tussle. I miss it actually. Those things were tough to hone in on and you really had to be sharp.

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor

  • The Bug Doctor

    Thanks for the kind word. Has the treatment for these guys gotten less challenging over the years for you? When I moved here I find less C-ant challenges and bee work is only occasionally a tussle. I miss it actually. Those things were tough to hone in on and you really had to be sharp.

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor

  • Bill Winters

    Very fine articles. Much needed information for the public. Keep up the good work.

  • Bill Winters

    Very fine articles. Much needed information for the public. Keep up the good work.

  • The Bug Doctor

    Thank you Bill,

  • The Bug Doctor

    Thank you Bill,

  • http://nopests.com JP McHale Pest Management

    Yes, the treatments have been getting less challenging. By using up-to-date products along with our procedure for treating carpenter ants we see less cases after we treat the infected homes. We think home owners are taking better care of their homes since no one wants ants to ruin their home. Occasionally those little critters will still swarm though!

  • http://nopests.com JP McHale Pest Management

    Yes, the treatments have been getting less challenging. By using up-to-date products along with our procedure for treating carpenter ants we see less cases after we treat the infected homes. We think home owners are taking better care of their homes since no one wants ants to ruin their home. Occasionally those little critters will still swarm though!

  • http://www.propestcontroller.com Action Pest Control Olympia

    Really great rundown on this menace. Carpenter ants are a significant problem here in western Washington.

  • http://www.propestcontroller.com Action Pest Control Olympia

    Really great rundown on this menace. Carpenter ants are a significant problem here in western Washington.

  • The Bug Doctor

    Those things get about as big as your thumb out west, what are you guy’s feeding them. lol

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor

  • The Bug Doctor

    Those things get about as big as your thumb out west, what are you guy’s feeding them. lol

    Thanks for reading
    The Bug Doctor

  • The Bug Doctor

    Good to know people are taking steps to help out. I have a feeling the bugs are gonna figure a way around even our latest advancements, nice to have the experience to fall back on. :)

  • The Bug Doctor

    Good to know people are taking steps to help out. I have a feeling the bugs are gonna figure a way around even our latest advancements, nice to have the experience to fall back on. :)

  • Pingback: Carpenter ants in Florida

  • Jesse Ritz

    Great article; I’ve used several points to understand how to treat carpenter ants. We had a good size nest in a wall that was not completely closed up after construction last summer. I fed them ‘Advance’ granules for a few weeks until the queen crawled out into our basement (we’ve never seen ants down there). I fed them another month then dusted everywhere I could reach with a Pyrethroid. You can imagine my surprise, as a simple homeowner, when it appeared that they were back this summer.

    I’ve begun the Advance again; they are taking it slowly. But more importantly, as a result of your article, I’ll determine if the satellite is inside or outside. When I saw the infestation last summer I removed scrap lumber nearby but found only soil ants where wood was in ground contact. I have a soil ant nest in a corner of the greenhouse (only treated lumber there?); the frass is very small ‘sawdust’. I’ll treat that directly with ‘Talstar’ liquid I use for brown marmorated stink bugs (very bad in sw Penna).

    There is little good information regarding the Asian stingbug species. We kill them with a fly swatter or small square stick when they are in a corner; there is no smell when you kill them before they can ‘spray’. Forty year old, well maintained homes with quality construction have no problem. But stinkbugs crawl right past foam and plastic seals in new doors. I plan to brush Talstar around the seals but the thing is our breezeway is a great ‘stinkbug trap’.

    After feeding the stinkbugs crawl into the ‘crevises’ around our doors thinking if they go deep enough they will find a cool spot… but then they pop out inside. I kill 100+ a day on passing through the breezeway. If you wait they’ll dessicate in two days, but they poop all over everything so I prefer killing them right away. A ‘full’ stinkbug is juicy. With a stick pressed against their back you can press gently until they ‘pop’ then you can (usually) avoid the mess.

    They are attracted to light. They’ll crawl into a crack around a good wood door, then when you use the door they flit inside. But if a light is left on in the breeaeway 100 more will come in overnight. Of course if you have a small leak the stinkbug can detect the warmth and crawls right in. If I was sure it would work I’d light a box with a window with a foam seal facing out. The light and warmth should attract the buggers. (I don’t believe the presence of stinkbugs attract more.)

    Do you have an article on the brown marmoreted stinkbug?

    Jesse Ritz

  • http://pestcemetery.com The Bug Doctor

    Hey Jesse- Sounds like you’re getting quite the bug education up there.lol You’re doing pretty good with the carpenter ants and it sounds like you’re on the right track. If you can get a product called Arilon that works well. It’s a non repellant that they ‘pick up’ and they do much of the work for you taking it back to the nests. Also- if you get behind the 8 ball consider hiring a pro with a license to do a power spray using Termidor. It’s limited as to how many times you can apply it this way but you really only need one service in most cases & they are just a memory- Stink bugs are bad but man the way you describe the different associated problems I’m glad we don’t have them here in Florida (yet) I do have an article on them and one on the use of lighting that you may help. Just follow the links in this article and you’ll get to it all.
    http://pestcemetery.com/chinese-drywall-brown-stink-bugs/

    PS. You ever do any writing? You’d be a great blogger with your descriptions ;)

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