Carpenter ant nests consist of smooth, clean tunnels and excavations in wood that run with or against the grain. Carpenter ants nest in moist wood including rotting trees, tree roots, tree stumps, and logs or boards lying on or buried in the ground. |
A carpenter ant colony is often composed of a series of nests. The main nest, or parent nest, is usually located outdoors, often in woodpiles, logs, stumps, or trees – sometimes several feet above the ground. The nest contains the queen, some workers, larvae and pupae. It may be joined by sub-nests, or satellite nests, containing workers, and older larvae and pupae. The colony's reproduction takes place in the parent nest where the queen lays eggs. Larvae hatch from the eggs, are cared for and later may be transported to satellite nests. There, the larvae will undergo pupation and complete their metamorphosis to become adult workers.
It is the satellite nest that is most often encountered in structures. A satellite nest is often established in an area where wood has become moist. Common sites include wood around leaking chimney flashing, attics, skylights, bathtubs, windowsills, doorframes, porch supports, columns, soffits, wood siding and shingles, and flat roofs. Carpenter ants also will nest in fiberglass and foam insulation.
They can also nest in moist or decayed wood inside buildings. Wood decay may be caused by exposure to leaks, condensation, or poor air circulation. Nests have been found behind bathroom tiles; around tubs, sinks, showers, and dishwashers; under roofing, in attic beams, and under subfloor insulation; and in hollow spaces such as doors, curtain rods, and wall voids. Carpenter ants may also nest in foam insulation.
A parent carpenter ant colony sometimes establishes one or more satellite nests in nearby indoor or outdoor sites. Satellite nests are composed of workers, pupae, and mature larvae. A satellite nest does not require moisture because the workers do not tend eggs (the eggs would dry out without sufficient humidity). For this reason, satellite nests can be found in relatively dry locations, such as insulation, hollow doors, and sound wood. The workers of satellite colonies move readily between their nest and the parent colony. In late summer, winged reproductives (i.e. queens and males) may emerge from pupae transported into satellite colonies. They may appear in structures in late winter and early spring as they swarm from a satellite nest.
Locating parent nests outdoors can require some sleuthing. Remember, carpenter ants are mostly nocturnal, so you may need to inspect after dark with a flashlight. Try to locate where the ants are trailing, and follow any ant that is carrying a bit of food back to the nest. You also can set out sugar water, honey or freshly killed insects along the ants' path, and track them back. Remember, the nest may be up to 100 yards away.
Destruction of the parent nest is perhaps the best way to control carpenter ants. If the parent nest can be located, it can then be treated with dust or liquid residual insecticides. This eliminates the queen, preventing further reproduction without which the colony cannot long endure. Finding the parent nest is thus the critical step in ridding a structure of carpenter ants. Eliminating indoor satellite nests may afford a degree of control, but the ants from the parent nest outside the structure may reinfest later.
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