Although homeowners are fearful of the winged wood-eating termite, the warm air of spring also means mating season for another destructive pest: The carpenter ant. Left to their own devices, these little insects are able to wreak havoc on wood and have been known to burrow their way into moisture-damaged walls and into unattended houses.
"Carpenter ants can damage a home just like a termite can. Fortunately, they are easier to detect and their colonies typically make themselves known before too much damage is done," said Robert Soileau, Manager of J&J Exterminating.
The typical carpenter ant is large and black with a slender waist and is sometimes confused for a wasp. Unlike wasps, however, carpenter ants have distinctly elbowed antennae. When aggravated, they will likely sting or bite.
Unlike the termite, carpenter ants don't feed on wood and don't need it to survive, according to Soileau. Their destruction is based on practicalities - they need to burrow into the wood in order to start their colony. This typically happens in spring, when the mated queen is searching for a place to lay her eggs. "Once the colony is established, worker ants have to leave the nest in order to search for food. That is what makes them vulnerable," Soileau said. "Once they start leaving the nest, they are easy to detect. They trail from the nest to the outdoors and back."
Soileau says the most common site of carpenter ant activity in our region is in oak trees. "Oak trees have a lot of knots and hollow spots. These areas hold moisture which softens the wood, providing the ideal environment for the carpenter ant nests. Activity starts at the nest site and spreads from there, as the colony grows, slowly encompassing more and more of the surrounding yard. If they aren't stopped, growth will continue and the colony will bud, forming sub-colonies. It is at this stage that these ants enter a home or business and become a more costly threat."
Home or business owners who notice carpenter ants around their structures should contact an exterminator immediately for an inspection, according to Soileau. "Inspection is a big key to containing these pests before structural damage occurs. Inspection is best done in late evening when movement is at its highest level. We can follow the movement back to the main colony. This is the key to successful eradication of carpenter ants - finding and treatment main colony. Once that location is identified, we apply localized spot treatment, which is the most effective way to eliminate the problem. However, since these pests are so common in our region, and they migrate, regular service may be needed to prevent new infestation."