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Carpenter Ants

In an apparent ongoing bug theme, here is an interesting article submitted to us by Chris Pestana, founder of JP Pest Services in Milford, NH.

There are two things that every homeowner in the Northeast needs to grasp about carpenter ants (and about ten more things that would be helpful to know):

Just about every home is surrounded by carpenter ant colonies.

Whether you perceive it or not, carpenter ants will forage and colonize within your home.

Lets discuss the first point first: Carpenter ants are an extremely successful insect here in the Northeast. They excavate and colonize the heartwood of trees, typically in and around the root ball or any area where the tree has been compromised allowing moisture and rot to develop. Their galleries will often extend from these areas of rot to areas well within sound wood. Our forests are naturally replete with carpenter ant colonies; developed areas, however, are especially dense with activity. This is because we compromise so many trees and root balls while clearing and excavating for development. It is strictly a matter of time between the development of a home and the development of carpenter ant colonies within the trees around that home.

Now to the second point: Carpenter ants (and ants in general) are very aggressive foragers and colonizers. They will range hundreds of yards into the environment to support the colony. In fact, there may be no better insect to describe with the term colony. Colonization (as you may remember from your European History class) is the process of establishing new settlements in new territories to increase the flow of resources back to the mother country. With carpenter ants, it is all about supporting the brood of the parent colony. In the base of that tree is a parent colony with an egg-laying queen, where all the larval development is taking place. Radiating out in all directions from that parent colony are supply lines (foraging routes the ants take every night to feed the larvae). Along many of the supply lines are satellite colonies (groups of foraging ants that have established protected bases of operations from which they can extend their foraging range).

Our homes make superb sites for satellite colonies. They can move into natural voids and forage in a succulent exterior landscape. Also, due to the fact that we frequently create moisture problems for ourselves, our homes are often the perfect scenario for parent colonies to establish. You know those really big black ants with wings that you see in May every year? Those are mated female reproductive carpenter ants (queens) that are looking for a little water damage in which to lay eggs and start a new parent colony. They erupt from the colony en masse on a warm spring day following a rain and fly off to propagate new colonies. So, essentially our homes are under assault by land and by air!

One last thing: I couched that second major point up there with “whether you perceive it or not.” Carpenter ants will forage and colonize within your home. I put it that way for two reasons. Number one: Carpenter ants are at least 90% nocturnal. Sure, you may see a few ants around during the day but it’s nothing compared to what you’d see at night if you knew where to look. Number two: My observation over 25 years of pest control is that, for some reason, homeowners don’t call when they see ants foraging around their house, they call when they are foraging in the kitchen or in the bathroom. That is when they perceive that there is a problem. The reality is that ants don’t want to forage inside. All the food that they prefer (such as the honeydew produced by aphids) is outside. It is only a small fraction of infestations that get to the point where ants are foraging within the living space. They are perfectly content to live inside the walls and roof and forage outside the structure at night.

Carpenter ants are a very persistent pest and can be extremely challenging to take on with Do It Yourself products. Persistence is extremely important. We have developed highly effective specialized techniques and materials for dealing with this pest in all types of construction. I would recommend a professional prevention program to anyone that is concerned about this pest.

Chris Pestana is the founder and former general manager and partner in JP Pest Services, New Hampshire’s oldest and largest pest control service headquartered in Milford, New Hampshire. Chris is currently enjoying retirement and awaiting the completion of his newest Brooks Post & Beam addition!

Author: Paul Freeman