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 bugwood.org. 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.