Carpenter Ant or Termite?

Both termites and Carpenter Ants are wood destroying insects that can cause severe damage to homes and buildings.  Both insects damage the wood in different ways.  Termites eat the wood for its nutrients whereas Carpenter Ants bore the wood out for nesting.  However, from a homeowner’s point of view, still damage to the structure.  That is why early detection is of paramount importance. 

Termite swarmer’s (winged termite) have a very slender body that looks like an elongated black piece of rice.  The wings are longer then the body of equal length.   


How do Carpenter Ant colonies form?

Generally speaking, ant colonies form in several ways.  In the most common in homes, both winged male and female ants swarm in massive numbers on a warm day when the soil is soft from a previous rain.  This type of swarm is alarming because if occurs indoors, you could be dealing with several thousand ant swarmer’s.  This reproduction process is supposed to occur outdoors so that after mating occurs, the newly fertilized queen digs a chamber in the soil or wood for a new nesting site.


What Carpenter Ants eat?

In general, Carpenter Ants like to feed on types of food sources that contain sugars and proteins.  For example, when Carpenter Ants are foraging for food outdoors, they will feed on insects (living and expired).  Often overlooked, Carpenter Ants are extremely drawn to honeydew.  This enticing liquid is produced by aphids.  So if you are having a problem with aphids, this may attract Carpenter Ants to your home.  Aphids can be commonly found in shrubs, plants are trees around your home.  When Carpenter Ants are nesting indoors, they will feed on a variety of food sources in order to sustain nutrients.  More specifically, sweets such as (jelly, syrup, honey and sugar) and other meat scrap sources. 

Carpenter Ants will forage for food in the evening from dusk and midnight in the spring and summer time period.  At times, workers will travel out in search of food several yards away from the primary nest.


Where do Carpenter Ants live?

When looking at where live, the best spots to look at are wood that is very moist, dead trees, wood piles,  gutters that have not been cleaned and are filled with excess leaf debris or old wood that has been lying on the ground collecting moisture.  On the interior of homes, if there is a water leak that has caused wood damage, excessive moisture from condensation build up or other causes that can lead to excessive moisture problems. 

When looking for moisture problems indoors, the hot spots are around sinks, under dishwashers, showers and others areas that have a water source that may allow some moisture build up.  Other areas could include around beams, flooring, behind insulation, hollow areas behind walls, wall voids and areas that are in close proximity to water and/or moisture.

It is important to note that often times that Carpenter Ant colonies have several satellites sub-nesting sites away from the primary nest.   The reason why this is important is that different from the main nest that needs a moisture source, a satellite nests do not require this constant moisture source and as such, can sustain in untypical areas that are dry. 


What damage do Carpenter Ants cause?

As mentioned above, Carpenter Ants do not eat the wood for its nutrients. Rather, Carpenter Ants cause damage to wood due to the tunnels that are created from the excavating.  Note that these galleries and tunnels are smooth.  Unlike termites where you will find mud (soil) in the wood, you will not find frass, sawdust contained in the galleries.  This is a key distinction between Carpenter Ant and Termite Damage.  Just like was mentioned with many of the other wood destroying insects, the longer damage goes untreated the possibility for severe damage.   It is for this reason that early detection of Carpenter Ants is important so that the colony does not spread throughout a home.  


What do Carpenter Ants do in the spring?

During the spring months in New Jersey, you can easily find Carpenter Ant activity around home and buildings.  As soon as you have identified that you have Carpenter Ants, indoors or outdoors, it is critical to identify if the Carpenter Ants are nesting inside or outside the structure.  Just because you find a Carpenter Ant in your home does not necessarily mean that you have an infestation.  However, during the latter part of winter and start of spring, if you are seeing Carpenter Ants in your home this could indicate that Carpenter Ants are starting to from a nest indoors. 

Often in spring, you may find Carpenter Ant Swarmer’s. Carpenter Ant Swarmer’s occur because Carpenter Ants generate larger amounts of queens and males in the later part of summer. As the queens and males emerge, mating occurs, and the search for a suitable new nest begins. Once the swarmer’s land, the swarmer’s wings fall off and each queen will try to form a new nesting site. 

Sometimes Carpenter Ants nests are created indoors and swarmer’s emerge inside! One sign of this is if you find large amount of ants with wings inside your home, which is also a good indication that a nest may exist inside your home.


What do Carpenter Ants do in the winter?

A strong sign that a Carpenter Ant nest exists inside your home is if you are seeing Carpenter Ants in the winter months. Take note if you have recently brought firewood inside you may have brought Carpenter Ants in with the wood.  No need to worry if that is the case. 

Carpenter Ants could become active inside a home during the winter months depending upon if the home receives ample heat from sunlight, if there are moderate exterior temperatures, or from an interior heat source.  Generally, if there is Carpenter Ant activity during the winter months, they will typically forage for food and sources of moisture in the evening. 

During the winter months, some of the common areas around the interior of a home that Carpenter Ants may be active could be in kitchen cabinets, under sinks, under and/or around dishwashers, under bathroom tubs, around the walls near sinks and toilet areas, or other places of excessive moisture.


How can I Prevention getting Carpenter Ants?

If you want to try and prevent getting Carpenter Ants in your home, a critical step is to reduce and/or reducing high moisture problems that will possible attractive Carpenter Ants to them if possible. For example, have your gutters cleaned out and maintained, remove standing water and replace all of the damaged wood from the excessive moisture.

In addition, make sure tree limbs are not overhanging or touching the house and trim back branches that are touching and/or overhanging power and electrical lines or wires that connect to the structure. It is important to note that Carpenter Ants have the ability to travel from the tree limbs to power lines and use those said cables like a road way right into your home.


How can I detect Carpenter Ants in New Jersey?

In order to control and get rid of Carpenter Ants in your home, the nest needs to be first located and then destroyed.  Locating the nest requires a thorough inspection and time to observe the pathways of the ants.  This is especially the case during peak hours when workers are foraging for food and moisture sources.  In addition to finding the Carpenter Ant roadways, an inspection for saw dust, frass or wood shavings is another good source to determine if a home is experiencing a Carpenter Ant problem.  Finally, excessive water moisture areas are another critical inspection area.


What do I need to know about Carpenter Ants as a homeowner?

As a homeowner, Carpenter Ants can be a real problem.  It is critical that repair areas around your home that may have and/or be developing a moisture problem.  Keep you gutters clean from leafy debris that can collect moisture.  Have the trees, shrubs, landscaping and plants around your home inspected for Aphids, as they can provide an attraction for Carpenter Ants.