Ant: The Carpenter Ant

Carpenter ants are one of many species of ants. Even though carpenter ants look similar to many of the other species they have their own physical characteristics that differentiate them from other ants. Also,of carpenter ants are often confused with termites. The best way to differentiate carpenter ants from another kind of ant is the carpenter ant only has one segment between it’s thorax and abdomen; also, the thorax is evenly rounded. Some carpenter ants are winged and this physical aspect confuses them with termites. The carpenter ants wings are different sizes, with the front wings being larger in size than the back wings. While the termites wings are the same size. Another physical characteristic that confuses people as to if it’s a carpenter ant or a termite is their antennae. The carpenter ant’s antennae are elbowed, where they look like they bend in the middle. The termite’s antennae are straight. These two simple physical traits of wings and antennae can confuse people, but knowing the difference will help homeowners correctly identify their pest problem.

ant carpenter ants

Carpenter ants have distinctive physical traits like the antennae being elbowed, and only one segment between the thorax and the abdomen. Both of these traits are visible in this picture.

The black- to red-toned carpenter ant is a hard worker, depending on it’s role within the colony that is. Ranging from three eights of an inch to a half of an inch, and sometimes larger, the carpenter ant does a lot with it’s little body. Whether the ant is a worker, a swarmer, a Queen, or a male, their size is contributed to their title. There are two varieties of workers, the larger worker is called a major and the smaller worker is called a minor. A swarmer is a winged reproductive carpenter ant. Queens are all usually about the same size, and there may be more than one Queen per colony. Males are used just for reproducing.

ant carpenter ants

These carpenter ants are swarmers. All swarmers have wings.

While males are used mainly for reproducing, Queens do just the same. Queens stay in the colony and lay eggs. In the late summer the eggs the Queen lays are males and more Queens, these eggs will hatch in early spring. Then these carpenter ants will reproduce once they are adults. Other eggs that the Queen lays throughout the year are females that become worker ants. The eggs take about three weeks to hatch into larvae. Once they are larvae they take about another three weeks to develop into pupa. From the pupa stage to adult it will be about another three weeks. The timing of all these stages may vary depending on the climate the carpenter ants are in at the time. During the carpenter ants development once it becomes a pupa worker ants come and take all the pupa to a satellite colony where the workers will take care of them. With Queens having so many babies the colony grows and grows over time. With in two to four years there can be hundreds of workers within a colony, and just a few years more there can be thousands of workers within a colony.

A kind of ironic fact abut carpenter ants is that they don’t eat wood. This is ironic because the colony that carpenter ants build is most often in some form of wood. They like to live in moist wood, rotting trees, tree stumps, logs, firewood, near tubs, near sinks, near showers, near dishwashers, under roofing, in attic beams, hallow spaces like doors, curtain rods, wall voids, and foam insulation. With a favorite living space being wood and the fact that carpenter ants make tunnels or galleries within the wood to form their colonies many people assume they eat wood.

ant carpenter ants

Here is a small nest found outside a house. The nest is in the wood of the patio.

Another common thing that confuses people as to if they have ants or termites in their house is that they both live in wood, and eat it. While the carpenter ant may live within wood and obviously has to destroy the wood to make its home it does not actually eat the wood, but many people think carpenter ants do eat the wood like termites do. Piles of what looks like sawdust, called frass, are left near the colony. Carpenter ants move it away from the colony once they have built their home so that people can’t find their nest right away. This confuses people even more because they assume the wood has been eaten by the carpenter ants and do not know where the piles of frass have come from.

Since the carpenter ants do not eat wood they find many other sources of food to eat. Carpenter ants go out to look for food usually around sunset and may stay out scavenging until midnight. Carpenter ants will even go as far as 100 yards away from their colony in order to find food. Proteins and sugars like meat, tuna in water, syrup, honeydew, honey, sugar, jelly, and other sweets are all favorites of the carpenter ants to eat. People can often find carpenter ants in their homes looking for food. This confuses people and makes them think they have an ant problem, when really there are just a few ants inside looking for food. Although there may be an infestation of carpenter ants the best thing to do to determine if there is a problem or not is to find the colony.

ant carpenter ants

Here are two carpenter ants feeding on a grape.

Pictures courtesy of

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