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Carpenter ants are well known for their habit of nesting within structural wood, which sometimes results in serious structural damage to homes and buildings. Red and black carpenter ants are the two carpenter ant pest species that infest homes in the northeast. The black carpenter ant is the most common and destructive of these two species, as the red carpenter ant is rarely associated with structural wood infestations. While it may be hard to properly identify ant species due to their small size and similar features, carpenter ants are one of the most recognizable insect pests in the US on account of their relatively large body size. Black carpenter ants grow to be between ¼ and ½ of an inch in length, and their jet black exterior makes them easy to notice when they invade kitchens in search of sweet-tasting human food sources. While carpenter ants are named for their habit of excavating nesting galleries within structural wood, most carpenter ant infestations do not affect structural wood. Instead, carpenter ants often establish multiple satellite nests within dark areas inside of homes where workers frequently emerge to secure indoor food sources.

Carpenter ants only nest within structural wood sources that have become thoroughly saturated with moisture, and they prefer to nest within decaying wood sources. In other words, carpenter ants only damage structural wood sources that are already damaged. Therefore, carpenter ant infestations are most alarming because they indicate that a home’s structural wood has already been compromised by plumbing or rainwater leaks. Since carpenter ants sometimes establish damaging infestations in damp structural wood, many homeowners worry about the effect that carpenter ants have on residential trees. However, carpenter ants are actually beneficial to trees, as the insects prey upon other insects that do inflict damage to trees, such as red oak borers. Trees can thrive for decades after being colonized by carpenter ants, and the presence of carpenter ants on a homeowner’s tree/s is not cause for alarm, but a structural wood inspection should be carried out on a property where carpenter ants are found in abundance, just to be safe.

Have you ever found carpenter ants on your property?