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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:
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