12 Things Carpenter Ants Do to Ensure their Survival

Carpenter ants are one of the most industrious creatures in the world. They can carve smooth tunnels inside wood as real carpenters.

People prefer to keep them away from their properties as their carving ability can damage wooden structures.

However, the mission of carpenter ants is not to cause costly damage to structures but to ensure their own survival. They carve woods to make themselves a new home. 

Now, let’s learn 12 things carpenter ants do:

Carpenter ants excavate tunnels inside woods.

Some people think that carpenter ants eat wood. But it is a wrong guess. 

They just excavate the wood and throw away shavings (sawdust) outside from tiny entrance holes.

Carpenter ants live in colonies.

It is not surprising behavior since almost all ant species have the same behavior. 

Usually, black carpenter ants live in groups of 10 – 20,000 individuals.

The largest colonies can even contain more than 50,000 individual ants.

Carpenter ants do not show off their skill.

This behavior tricks homeowners and inspectors. Because when the wood is infested with carpenter ants, people will see only tiny holes, from which carpenter ants expel wood shavings.

In other words, wood may seem perfectly fine from the outside. But when you inspect the inside, you will see branches of tunnels, which can eventually ruin the whole structure.

To determine if the wood is infested, just tap on to the wood with a hard object. A hollow sound usually indicates the presence of carpenter ants.

Carpenter ants bite and inject formic acid.

They have tough and powerful jaws which they utilize to protect themselves when they feel threatened.

On top of a powerful bite, they can inject a formic acid, which gives an uncomfortable burning sensation.

Although staying away from the ants is recommended, their bite is not considered deadly. And they are not fearsome attackers like bull-dog ants.

Pain and burning sensation will elapse as time passes.

Carpenter ants prefer to build their nest in the moist areas.

Wood carving by carpenter ants
Wood carving by carpenter ants / Credit: Wikipedia

Although you can find them in dry woods, the woods dampened with moisture is their primary preference.

Therefore, if you decide to inspect your house, firstly start around water leaks, such as around the sink, roof, faucet, poorly sealed door frames, and windows, etc.….

Generally speaking, we need to fix water leaks before it attracts unwanted guests.

Winged carpenter ants look like termites.

People usually mistake winged carpenter ants to termites. The following are the best method to differentiate them:

–      Color: Termites have a lighter color compared to carpenter ants.

–      Wings: rear wings of carpenter ants are shorter than the front ones, whereas all four wings of termites are in equal length.

–      Behavior: Termites stay away from light and usually do not come out from their nest.

–      Body: Carpenter ants have a narrow waist. Termites have a broader waist.

–      Antennae: Carpenter ants have elbow-shaped antennae. Contrarily, the antennae of termites are straight.

Workers of carpenter ants forage for protein-based food and store them in their nest.

This behavior is very common to other species of ants as well. 

Ants prepare their nest for the upcoming cold season as a great team. They industriously stock up food in their storage nests.

However, people do not want these uninvited guests to feel comfortable in their property. So, they try to eliminate their nest.

It is hard to find their nest, but the University of Minnesota article offers a very simple method. 

They suggest putting out food that the ants are attracted to and follow them into their nest.

Other three signs of carpenter ant presence are a pile of coarse sawdust, spotting more than 20 carpenter ants in one area, and the presence of winged-ants indoors.

The majority of their population lives out in the wilderness.

Although it may seem like carpenter ants are attracted to human-made structures, the majority of their colonies live deep in the forests, where the wood is abundant.

Usually, they choose dead and decaying trees dampened with moisture. It is easier for them to carve decaying trees than live ones.

We usually wonder why carpenter ants need to build those tunnels inside a wood. The logical explanation is that wood protects them and their eggs much batter. 

It also provides better insulation as they need the right humidity and temperature to hatch eggs and nurture their young ones. 

The majority of those tunnels are not for living. They build them as pathways to connect various parts of their nests. 

Carpenter ants are scavengers and predators.

Carpenter ants with a dead insect
Carpenter ants processing a dead insect / Credit: Wikipedia

They eat both animal and plant-based foods. When they find dead insects, they hit a home run as it is one of their favorite protein sources.

They also fond of sweetness. So, do not be surprised if your sugar, honey, juice, or syrup attracts a large group of ants.

Carpenter ants usually forage their food at night.

They are mostly nocturnal (active at night) insects. By working at night, they avoid certain dangers. 

However, that behavior limits people’s chances to detect their presence in a house.

The best way to track them back to their nest is to use a flashlight at night. Unfortunately, the following process may take longer as their nest can be over 100 yards (91 m) away.   

They do not try to catch live insects.

Carpenter ants are digging a tunnel
Carpenter ants are digging a tunnel / Credit: Wikipedia

Carpenter ants do not like to spend their energy on hunting a live insect. Their goal is to find a dead insect, which is convenient to process.

Interestingly, carpenter ants only extract the dead insects’ bodily fluid and carry edible parts back their nest. They live the rest of the carcass behind.

Male carpenter ants die after mating.

When the weather is warm and humid, winged male and female carpenter ants emerge from satellite nests and start flying. 

This flying event is called a nuptial flight, during which females and males start the mating process in the air.

Once mating is over, males die. Newly fertilized females lose their wings and search for a suitable place to establish a new nest for themselves.

Then, a female lays about 20 eggs in a new location and nurture those eggs until workers ants emerge from them. That is how a new carpenter ant colony develops from scratch.

These were 12 things that carpenter ants do. And I hope these facts will help you to understand these tiny creatures more clearly. 

By Arslan Batyrovich

Founder of
Writer, Researcher, Fact-finder, and All-in-one
Loves nature, Likes history, and Adores anything interesting
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