Carpenter Ants Don’t Eat Wood, But You Don’t Want Them In Your Home

Our Texas insect expert answers common questions.

By Laura RiceJanuary 19, 2021 11:53 am,

Carpenter ants are fairly common across Texas. They are large and not usually a problem when they are making their home in a dead tree – but they can be a problem if they decide they want to live in your home. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service program specialist Wizzie Brown has some tips.

What carpenter ants look like:

“Most people, when they think of carpenter ants, they think of a large either all black ant or a black and red mixed ant. But we have variety of colors. We have these yellow ones that everybody sends me pictures of because they’re like, ‘well, this can’t be a carpenter ant – it’s yellow.’ So they can be yellow, they can be a reddish orange, they can be black, they can be any combination thereof.”

They don’t *eat wood:

“Carpenter ants are a wood destroying insect. They do not eat wood. So termites eat wood, carpenter ants live in wood. They will excavate it to create their homes, but they do not actually eat the wood. They cut usually along the lines and the grain of the wood and they make these really smooth, very clean galleries and they actually will throw the garbage out of their colony. And that ends up in this little garbage pile — we call that frass.”

Carpenter ant frass.

If you think you have them in your home:

“So if you see what looks like a little pile of sawdust and it has little bits of kind of sand in it and insect pieces, that is going to be carpenter ant frass. What I recommend people doing if they find something like that is clean it up. If another pile forms, then you have an active carpenter ant infestation somewhere nearby. Carpenter ants are going to nest typically in wood that has been damaged by fungus or water or like a dead tree branch. If we’re talking outside [wood on your home], if you are capable of replacing it, because a lot of times it’s just like trim or something on a house or around a window. Sometimes they get into the actual wall void of our home and that makes it a little bit trickier. Generally, what people would do would either be drilling a hole up high, just a little tiny hole that you would be able to insert like a little pesticide in there. They do have carpenter ant baits. It smells very fishy. It’s a very different scent. Sometimes they pick it up really well, sometimes they don’t. It all depends on what other sources of food they have around.”

What carpenter ants *actually eat:

“They’ll eat meats or other protein sources like dog food and then also whatever sugar they can get. So if you have spilled juice or if you have jelly that’s glommed on to something – that’s going to be fantastic for the carpenter ants.”

How to differentiate carpenter ants from termites:

Winged reproductive carpenter ant.

“Carpenter ants will swarm and they will have these reproductive ants that come out and they have wings. And so a lot of people will confuse those for termites. Ants are going to have pinched waists. They’re going to have wings. Their front and back wings are not the same size and shape. And then they’re also going to have elbowed antennae.”

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