How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manfuactured and modular homes

Do carpenter ants cause structural damage to houses in Florida?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Carpenter Ants Do Limited Damage

Carpenter ants do not consume wood as a food source like termites. They tunnel into it for a nesting site, sometimes leaving behind sawdust-like piles of wood bits below their nests, but do limited damage in comparison to the voracious wood consumption of a large colony of subterranean termites.

Two Species In Florida

    The two species of carpenter ants we have in Florida are Tortugas Carpenter Ants (Camponotus tortuganus) and Florida Carpenter Ants (Camponotus floridanus). Both are orange and black, with the Tortugas having less color contrast and a slightly narrower head. At up to 3/8” long, this is one of the biggest ants around, although workers can vary in size down to about 1/5”.

Where Carpenter Ants Establish A Colony

    They seek out wet wood that is already deteriorated for a colony location and do very little excavation in the wood—not enough to be defined as “structural”—unlike other varieties of black carpenter ants that range further north. Here’s a map of the distribution of the two species, from the University of Florida, IFAS Entomology.

    When carpenter ants establish a colony inside a home, it is usually at a damp location, such as in a wall cavity around a small plumbing leak, or under a roof leak in the attic insulation. They need moisture to keep their eggs from drying out before hatching. But we see them most often outside and in places like the moist  base of a hollow wood porch post, under potted plants, or in a water meter box. If you leave an unused bag of wood chip mulch laying on the ground in the yard for a couple of months, we can practically guarantee that you will find a carpenter ant colony living in the bottom when you open it.

Carpenter Ants Eat Termites

    The ants forage mostly at night, hunting outdoors for live or dead insects, along with tending and milking sap-sucking insects for their honeydew. When inside a house, they seek out sweets and proteins. Termites are a favorite food, and termite colonies have to fend off raids by their giant relatives. 

    Eliminating a carpenter ant infestation in a residence requires first locating the nest, although baits may be effective if placed along a foraging trail at night.

    For the answer to another question we get asked about carpenter ants, see our blog post Does the presence of carpenter ants in a house indicate that there are probably also termites?

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To learn more about termites, see these other blog posts:

Should I be worried about termites if my neighbor's house is being tented?

Is the WDO (termite) inspector allowed to poke holes in my wood siding and trim? 

How long before closing can you have a WDO (termite) inspection done?

How long does Bora-Care® last? 

 Why is it a mistake to store lumber in the crawl space under a house?

Does the presence of carpenter ants in a house indicate that there are probably also termites? 

If termite damage appears to be old, does that mean that termites may no longer be present?

How do I know if my WDO/termite report is "clear"? 

When do termites swarm in Florida?

Does a recent termite company inspection sticker mean there are no termites? 

Can a mobile/manufactured home get termites?

Do I have to tent the house if I have termites? 

What is the difference between a subterranean termite and a drywood termite?

What are the green plastic discs in the ground around the house? 

What is a termite shield?

How do termites get into a concrete block house? 

Do termites eat concrete?

   Visit our TERMITES, WOOD ROT AND PESTS page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.


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