What Are Signs of Carpenter Ants In The House?

Unsure if you have a carpenter ant infestation in your home? Here's how to identify the signs of carpenter ants in the house.

By Lauren Wingo | Updated Apr 7, 2022 12:14 PM

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Signs of Carpenter Ants In The House

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Q: I’m noticing some damage to the wood in my home. What are the signs of carpenter ants in the house, and how can I determine if I have an infestation?

A: Carpenter ants can cause serious damage to wood on properties. Their name originates from how they create their nests. Carpenter ants burrow in wood and build smooth tunnels where they work and live. If their activities go unchecked, carpenter ants can cause significant structural damage. While they can be mistaken for common black ants, there are distinct differences between the two upon closer inspection.

The presence of carpenter ants can be a sign they’ve created a nest in the home; however, there needs to be further examination to determine if they’ve made a nest in the property or are just passing through for food. Here are some signs of carpenter ants in the house to help you determine your course of action.

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Carpenter ants are larger than other types of ants. They may also have wings.

Signs of Carpenter Ants In The House Larger Than Common Ants

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At first glance, it can be easy to mistake a carpenter ant for a common black ant that frequents picnics and kitchens. However, the differences of carpenter ants are more apparent upon closer examination. Carpenter ants can be up to five times larger than common black ants, measuring an average of ⅝ of an inch. A carpenter ant can vary in size depending on its role within the colony.

Carpenter ants can also be identified by their heart-shaped head and single node below the thorax. On the other hand, common black ants have a round head and double nodes below the thorax. A carpenter ant also has a rounded thorax compared to the angular or bumpy thorax of a common black ant.

As there are many types of carpenter ants and common ants in the United States, it’s difficult to rely on color to identify the exact species of ant. For reference, black carpenter ants are usually black or dark brown, while red carpenter ants have a red thorax.

Piles of sawdust or wood shavings near baseboards, door jambs, and windowsills can indicate carpenter ants.

Carpenter ants are not as damaging as termites; however, they can cause thousands of dollars worth of damage if left unchecked. It’s important to note that carpenter ants only make nests in wood to live in. They do not use timber for food as termites do. Carpenter ants make their nests by creating tunnels through preferably damp wood where. They create these tunnels by chewing the wood and pushing it out of the tunnels into open areas. This can cause piles of sawdust or wood shavings.

Homeowners may notice “frass” or moist wood shavings from damp wood near baseboards, door jambs, and window sills. Frass also contains pieces of other insects carpenter ants have eaten and disposed of. Check basements, crawl spaces, and other places on the property with damp wood to see if there is a buildup of frass or sawdust. This can indicate carpenter ants are present and possibly causing structural damage.

Signs of Carpenter Ants In The House Rustling Noises

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Carpenter ants can make rustling noises in walls or woodwork.

The majority of mature carpenter ant colonies have around 3,000 ants. Larger colonies can host anywhere from 10,000 to 20,000 worker ants and up to 100,000 total carpenter ants. As the colony grows, there’s a greater chance a homeowner will be able to hear them building their nests. There may be a rustling sound as they tunnel through the wood to make their homes. It’s best to listen for this soft rustling sound when it’s quiet, preferably at night. It’s also helpful to test the walls by tapping the structure to see if the wood sounds hollow.

Flying ants can be a sign of a carpenter ant infestation.

Another sign of a carpenter ant infestation is flying ants or wing remnants on windows or cracks and crevices. Flying ants are reproductive ants within the colony that will leave the nest to reproduce and create new colonies. If there are winged ants on the property, it can indicate an established, mature carpenter ant colony. At this point, the carpenter ants may have caused significant damage that needs to be examined by a professional, and an exterminator should be called to control the infestation.

Signs of Carpenter Ants In The House Damaged Wood

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Wood that carpenter ants have damaged will be smooth and polished.

To determine if the damage to the wood is from carpenter ants or termites, examine the wood carefully. Wood galleries created by carpenter ants will be smooth and have an almost sandpaper texture to them. There will also be small holes where carpenter ants have kicked out debris, usually varying in size. Alternatively, termite-damaged wood contains soil and mud debris with more uniform sizes. Over time, these polished tunnels will weaken the structural integrity of the wood in the home, possibly causing the walls to warp from the thousands of holes in the ants’ galleries.

Carpenter ants may not be consistently active, but that doesn’t mean that they’re gone.

Since carpenter ants do not eat the wood they live in, homeowners may see carpenter ants emerge from their nests to forage for food. These worker ants can travel up to 300 feet in their search. It’s common only to see a few ants at a time, especially if it’s dry and sunny. However, the majority of the time, they may be tending to their nests. It’s possible not to see them very often; however, this doesn’t mean they’ve moved on. It’s more likely that they’re further establishing their nest, especially if they’re in a cool or damp environment.

Signs of Carpenter Ants In The House Call Exterminator

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A professional exterminator is best equipped to deal with a carpenter ant infestation.

It’s essential to know and identify the warning signs of carpenter ants living in a home. Once an infestation is determined, contact a professional to examine the extent of the infestation and recommend how to get it under control. A professional exterminator can ensure that there aren’t any ants left behind after eliminating the colony. Even leaving behind a few ants can allow them to rebuild their colony and reestablish a nest inside the home.

To prevent future infestations, homeowners should seal up any cracks within the home where ants could get through, store food in airtight containers, and ensure there isn’t damp wood in the home that ants can use to build their nests.

Pest problems?
Find licensed pest control experts in your area and get free, no-commitment estimates for your project.