Carpenter ants belong to a particular genus of ant that are well known for their ability to damage wooden structures. In addition to being a nuisance in homes in their search for food, carpenter ants can also cause structural damage to woodwork as they tunnel through timbers. and their presence in a home can be a sign of a moisture problem, or of wooden structures suffering from decay.
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Like all ants, carpenter ants are social insects, living in large colonies consisting of hundreds of workers, several reproductive males and females, and one or more queens. The male members exist in the colony only briefly. They die soon after mating, and the fertilized females fly on to new sites where they establish new colonies. During warm weather, eggs are laid that develop into a larval, then a pupal stage over the course of 66 days (under optimum conditions). The workers are responsible for caring for the young and foraging for food to feed the rest of the colony.
Carpenter ants vary in length from 6 to 25 mm. Workers are generally 6 to 13 mm long; males range from 9 to 10 mm females are the largest,varying in length from 12 to 25 mm. The body is divided into three segments, with very slim waists and segmented antennae. Male and female adults have wings at mating time, and the front wings, if present, are much longer than the hind ones. The red and black carpenter ant has a dark brownish black body, with a reddish brown thorax. The black carpenter ant is uniformly dark brownish black.
A thorough inspection of areas of high moisture, wood in contact with the soil, areas of improper ventilation, and exposed structural lumber is the first step. A good indicator of the presence of a colony is a high concentration of ants in a particular area, e.g., under the kitchen sink. In addition to tunneling in outside woodwork of buildings, wooden steps and sills, they also infest hollow spaces such as wall voids, attic spaces, hollow doors, cracks, crevices, furniture and existing termite galleries. Nests may also be found behind books in libraries, behind drawers in dressers and cabinets, and sometimes even in styrofoam insulation.
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Carpenter ants are relatively large (6 to 25mm) and are indigenous to many parts of the world. They prefer dead, damp wood in which to build nests. Sometimes carpenter ants will hollow out sections of trees. The most likely species to be infesting a house in North America is the Black carpenter ant, Camponotus pennsylvanicus. However, there are over a thousand other species in the genus Camponotus.
Carpenter ants construct nests by burrowing into wood. Outdoors, they are found in dead trunks of standing trees, stumps, or logs, or under fallen logs and stones. They prefer moist, decaying wood, and their presence in a home can be a sign of a moisture problem, or of wooden structures suffering from decay. Carpenter ants can, on occasion, mine sound wood, but it is usually a soft wood, such as pine or more commonly rotten and soft wood that they choose. They excavate "galleries" much longer than those produced by termites. The wood is not eaten but ejected from the nest as sawdust-like shavings.
These have a shredded texture, somewhat like the shavings found in pencil sharpeners. Indeed, heaps of these wood fragments, which the ants have expelled through slits in the infested woodwork, may be one of the signs of infestation.