Of the dozen species of carpenter ants living in North America, six live in the western US. The most common and indigenous to California is the “Western Black Carpenter Ant” (Componotus modoc) that nest in trees and wooden structures. Carpenter ants are most common in wooded areas of Marin and Sonoma counties. Unlike Termites and wood-boring beetles that eat wood for a living, carpenter ants forage on honeydew, sugars, starches, amino acids, minerals & vitamins. But they can cause damage to insulation and wood members when invading structures. Carpenter ants are eusocial insects that have several queens in the main colony and often establish satellite colonies with additional queens, workers, soldiers and winged reproductives (alates). These swarmers will fly during the swarming season to mate and start new colonies.
Nesting and Infestations:
Like termites and wood boring-beetles, they contribute to the ecosystem’s cycle to return dead trees and wood scraps to the ground as nutrient rich organic material. They nest mostly in dead or hollow trees, trunks, stumps, branches and firewood but will also establish satellite colonies in wooden structures such as sheds, garages and homes. They will excavate wood and insulation and in structures favor tongue and grove open beam ceilings and wall voids. Though they can infest dry areas, they prefer some humidity and an infestation within a structure may reveal an unknown leak or source of moisture intrusion to a roof, chimney, wall, window, condensation or a failing plumbing fixture. Infestation becomes apparent with visible insect activity or debris (frass) falling from ceilings or wall voids, where debris is expelled by carpenter ants busy cleaning their galleries. Debris often looks like small pencil shavings mixed with insulation, other debris and insect body parts. They often travel between the main nest and satellite colonies using power lines, tree branches, bushes and vines touching the structure, as well as railing, fences, decks, balconies, arbors, gutters, downspouts and such features connected to the building. Activity is most prominent in late afternoons on warmer days. The main nest could be off-site, at a neighbor’s property, across the street or in a nearby open space and therefore not accessible for treatment and eradication.
Carpenter Ant vs. Termites: Both carpenter ant and termite alates (winged reproductives) sometimes fly (swarm) at the same time and can easily be mistaken. Carpenter ants have elbowed antennae, thin waists between the head, thorax and abdomen as well as two pairs of wings of different sizes, while termites have straight antennae, a thick waist and two pairs of similar size wings. Termites sometime tear off their wings, which may also lead to confusing them with carpenter ant workers that often forage about for food. Carpenter ants will most often travel in the afternoon through tree limbs and power lines and are easy to spot on wood trim, ceilings and gutters. On the other hand termites tend to fly or swarm on warm days following a rainy or foggy period when moisture is present in the air and are often seen by windows as they try and floy out of buildings.
Preventing and Eliminating Infestations: Being indigenous to California, carpenter ants are always around in the early spring and throughout summer. The best is to prevent infestations through preventative maintenance as proactive measures can go a long way and sometimes prevent the use of chemical treatment. When all else fails then it may be necessary to treat wall, ceiling and eave areas as well as set baits to eliminate persistent infestations. Left unattended, carpenter ants can become annoying invaders generating lots of debris to interior living areas and can also create damage to insulation and wood members of the structure.
Here are a few prevention tips:
1) Correct roof or plumbing leaks and other moisture problems that will attract carpenter ants and can also lead to damage and deterioration to wood members
2) Periodically clear roofs and gutters of tree debris to avoid built-up, moisture retention and food source as clogged gutters can contain seeds and food substance sought by carpenter ants
3) Eliminate earth-wood contacts where soil cover or mulch is against the siding of a home, especially soil covering that is deteriorated or old and rotting
4) Trim tree limbs, vines, bushes and vegetation away from roof, decks, fences, arbors & siding several feet to create a break between the environment and the house
5) If you have vines growing against the house, decks, balconies, fences, arbors, try and trim them or isolate them from these to make it harder for ants to travel to and from the exterior
6) Seal cracks and openings at foundation, siding and eaves, especially where plumbing and utility pipes as well as cables and wires enter from the outside.
7) Check also utility wires, data cables and other wiring for lighting, sound systems or laundry lines leading to or going through trees that can be an easy point of entry for carpenter ants
8) Stack firewood, lumber, recycling material and compost piles away from the structure and elevate it off the ground. Never store firewood in the garage, basement or in other areas of the home, as firewood is a prime nesting area for carpenter ants, wood boring beetles and termites
9) Pay attention to bird activity as birds often feed on carpenter ants and wood peckers will also drum on wood infested by carpenter ants
10) Get a period service to have your property monitored and treated during the carpenter ant season before a large satellite colony is well established inside your home’s walls and ceilings.
11) Call us if you suspect activity or for periodic inspections and treatments. To eradicate and deter carpenter ant infestations we use low toxicity insecticide (Termidor, Tim-Bor, MaxForce), bait gel and/or repellents.
Call our inspectors at Marin Termite Control at (415) 456-9620 to schedule an appointment and check our website at www.marintermite.com and our blog (http://marintermite.blogspot.com/2012/02/marin-termite-control.html) and facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Marin-Termite-Control/189288581143911) for additional information.