Can Ants Damage My Home?

Ants have colonized every landmass on Earth, except for Antarctica and a handful of remote or unlivable islands. They can form 15 to 25 percent of terrestrial animal biomass in any given ecosystem. Out of an estimated total of 22,000 species, over 12,500 ant species have been identified.

Ants are some of the most widespread pests in the country. Some, like the Pharaoh ant, will infest your food and transmit diseases and pathogens. Most ants are just a nuisance.

However, one ant that will cause physical damage to your home is the carpenter ant.

About Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants are large insects capable of growing up to half an inch in length. They have humped backs and are black with gray, yellow, or red hairs on their legs and bodies. In the United States, the main species you’re likely to encounter is the black carpenter ant, which is noted for its dull black color and whitish or yellowish hairs on the abdomen.

As you can imagine from the name, carpenter ants have a penchant for wood. In the wild, carpenter ants act as decomposers of forest trees. They burrow into trees to nest, thereby enhancing decay, which has various ecological benefits. However, when they move from their native woods to manmade wood structures, they can do some serious damage. In fact, carpenter ants are recognized as the primary wood destroying pest in New England, causing more damage than even termites.

Unlike termites, carpenter ants do not eat wood and are incapable of digesting wood cellulose. They only bore into wood to create and expand their nests. Their diet consists of a variety of plant and animal foods, including fruits, plant juices, other insects, small invertebrates, and various sweets.

Where to Find Them

Essentially any building or home near a forest is a likely location for a carpenter ant nest. Carpenter ants are nomadic and will expand their nests seasonally. Every spring, colonies will actually produce swarmers to establish new colonies. These swarmers are winged ants capable of reproduction.

Carpenter ants prefer areas of high moisture, so inspect kitchens and bathrooms for wood dust or shavings. Outdoors, tap on any trees (especially evergreens) and hollow stumps within a 300 foot radius of your home. Try to listen for any rustling. You can cut into the wood (where appropriate, of course) to confirm that the ants are indeed in the wood.

How They Damage Your Home

As with other social insects, carpenter ant colonies grow rapidly. To accommodate the growing colony, the ants will burrow into wood to create more tunnels and chambers for the nest, which usually leads to hollowed out trees or stumps. Unfortunately, when your house is involved, a hollowed out or weakened foundation compromises the structural integrity, which only becomes more severe as the days go by. Aside from the expensive repairs, the weakened wood could lead to accidents and injury. In some rare cases, the extensive tunneling leads to a collapsed home.

How to Get Rid of Them

Boric acid is an effective treatment for destroying indoor nests. If kept dry, boric acid can be effective for up to 30 years. Although the powder is non-toxic to humans, take care when handling it to avoid inhaling or ingesting it.

You can combine boric acid with jelly or sugar water. Workers will carry this toxic concoction back to the nest and to the queen. Once the queen dies, the colony will slowly fade. This is a longer process that can take whole months depending on the size of the colony.

If you have pets, forego the boric acid for diatomaceous earth or other desiccating dusts. These will eliminate insects by absorbing their waxy outer coatings, essentially causing them to waste away from dehydration.

For severe infestations, call professional exterminators, who have pesticides that aren’t available to the public and the in-depth know-how to take care of a carpenter ant problem.

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