Carpenter Ants

Yesterday’s post was on the turmoil caused by street tree removal and I made a comment about some old Norway maple trees being the home to Carpenter Ants. I thought there might be some ‘splaining to do. I might have led you to believe that the ants are only harmful creatures with my short comment.  But au contraire my dear readers.

I don’t want to completely malign the poor ants since it really matters where they take up residence. In their natural habitat, the forests, they are actually considered beneficial insects. They prey on other insects like aphids eating both dead and living specimens. They speed up the decay process of decaying wood on the forest floor, but they do not eat the wood and do not cause the initial rot.

They also do not necessarily kill the tree. But, unfortunately under favorable conditions, they attack wood in the interior of the living trees or your building structure if the wood is soft, moist and chewy.

Carpenter Ants just happen to prefer moist, rotten wood to build their nurseries. They build the tunnels parallel to the grain of the wood, a much easier route for them to navigate.

But, they usually enter the tree through wounds in the trunk or broken branches and burrow their galleries from the decaying wood, unfortunately for the tree, right  into the good wood.

The ants add to the already harmful effects of the wood-rotting fungi in reducing the physical strength of the wood. Most damage occurs during the warm summer months when carpenter ants are most active, between May and September.

Carpenter ants have a positive effect on the environment. As a scavenger, they reprocess the rotting wood. If their tunnels put a strain on the trees water conducting capacity, that in turn weakens the tree structure. The tree then becomes a hazard to person and property. This is when the ants become unwanted pests that require removal.

To get rid of the ants, it is necessary to destroy the main nest,  but additionally, the satellite nests as well. The colony can easily be discovered by the discarded sawdust (frass) piled on the ground near the entrance to the nest.  To destroy the ant colony, all nests must be found and taken out. Boric acid is commonly used and will kill foraging adult ants. It is not carried back to the nest. So YOU need to find all the nests. Smart little devils.

They are often confused with termites. So here is an illustration depicting the two for identification purpose. The illustration clearly points out the differences. I have had this image for so long, I have no idea where it came from.

As a Master Gardener, I always get asked about ants, so I compiled information from the Cooperative Extension to discuss the habits, locations found, removal, and types of ants. I am no expert on ants, but trust what I have learned.

I got the images from This site shows images of southern invasive creepies that will keep you up at night. The African python image really gave me the heebie jeebies. They do have pretty pictures of the Glades and local flora, though. I looked for images there because they seem to have a much larger incidence of insect damage than those of us here in the north.

So, in conclusion, ants are not all bad. Nature has a way of self-correcting, and the little guys have a vital service to perform. Sometimes, we just make it easier for them.

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at:
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23 Responses to Carpenter Ants

  1. Sherri B. says:

    Very informative, thank you. I just found your blog yesterday and love all of the facts. Look forward to following you.

    • Thanks. I have visited you as well and will check in often. I know I should be posting pretty flowers and landscapes, but now and then I like to mix it up with some stories. I needed to clarify the ant’s plight and service to the natural environment. I am sure they get stepped on a lot, and their are only doing their job. Hard little workers, too. This week, I am going to post a pretty landscape in the country. So stop back. ‘Til then, Donna

  2. bangchik says:

    In this part of the world, ants are familiar things. They crawl all over the place, mostly in some kind of route, coming back and forth. Some bite hard, but most don’t. Termites however pose real headache. They just chew at will…. and I lost a matured papaya tree a few months ago. ~bangchik

  3. Dan Cummings says:

    Though at times carpenter ants can do some good for the environment, they are still very bad and unwelcome pests! Great Article!

    • It is true for landscape trees and houses, giant pest in such a little body. Chew, chew, chew. All we can do to keep them from setting up residence is to control the moisture in our wood. Or keep the trees from unnecessary damage. Can’t help when Mother Nature sends a lighten bolt though.

  4. debsgarden says:

    Thanks for the great information on carpenter ants and for a very interesting presentation. I look forward to reading your posts!

    • Donna says:

      I am glad you like the way I present. I enjoy adding a bit of humor in either graphics or text to keep the post light, but still add some substance now and then. My job is always so serious, the creative fun comes with the blog. Hope to see you again here. I visit Deb’s garden often, but don’t always comment, but Happy 35th.

  5. Christine B. says:

    Writing as someone who has literally had ants in her pants, the less I see of them the better. They can just do their job quietly and stay away from me, my picnic, and my healthy trees;)

    We had an infestation at a high school pool and boy, I’ve never been quite so alert whilst waiting for the kids to come out of the locker room. Things that can crawl on the ceiling always have my respect.

    Christine in Alaska

    • Donna says:

      Your description will keep me awake tonight. I too hate any creature that can get places I can not. Dropping from the ceiling and all. Like spiders and those blasted mosquitos. Don’t you just hate when one gets in the house and buzzes around all night. That little buzzzzzzz in your ear ALL NIGHT.

  6. Autumn Belle says:

    I enjoyed reading this highly informative and interesting post about carpenter ants/ Love the cartoons. I always thought that termites are the most scary pests.

    • Donna says:

      Have to agree on the termites. Lucky for us in the north that we have less problems with them. I feel for you Southerners, but I did have a house in Pennsylvania that got infested with the little buggers. Had to have the house tented.

  7. Great info … if we can only keep our homes dry … no problem … it is hard with a two hundred year old house . . . however, she is still standing… ants and all. ;>))

    • Donna says:

      I know what you mean. My house is half the age as yours, but still I am always finding places to plug. Water and wasps alike. Ah, the niceties of restoring.

  8. (BTW you don’t Have To ‘should do pretty flowers’) My blog, so I write about what interests me. Sometimes a pretty flower, but we also have harvester ants who collect seeds, and harvester termites who disappear my mulch. Your writing, as we find you, will draw your own circle, who share your interest in bugs. Have you visited Wiseacre?

    • I did check out Wiseacre, but thanks for suggesting it. Since discovering Blotanical, I have increased the number of gardening blogs that I read, and, unfortunately, decreased the number of Interior blogs to only a few of my favorites. I think I will add these to my sidebar because garden bloggers may find them interesting too.

  9. Jennifer says:

    My neighbor has an old maple that she found had carpenter ants after a very large branch snapped off fell to the ground. Thank goodness she wasn’t under the tree at the time! At the time the branch fell, she destroyed all the ants she found, but recently discovered sawdust on the ground. There must be another nest still up in the tree. I must tell her about your post.

  10. Your posts are delightful, Donna! Are you the artist here? If so, you may want to add a copyright notice on your blog or those cute little guys will begin showing up all over.

    • You are probably right. I draw for fun, but I have noticed my Garden Walk posters showing up on different sites. That is why I do not post architectural drawings or my fine art paintings. They are proprietary. But that does not protect them always either. I had a complete design used by another architect once after it was submitted as a proposal to the client. It was almost a perfect copy. I will only show schematics and sketches.

      Thanks for the advice. I should look into it.

  11. Ah! I just found it. 🙂

  12. Kimberly says:

    Great info on these ants, especially the difference between them and termites. Unless closely inspected, I can see how they might be considered the enemy.

    • That drawing that I posted has been so helpful. It clearly shows what makes them different. I can not remember where I got it. Hope somebody knows, because I would like others to know as well. It is worth filing away.

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