Ants are the most commonly encountered insects within and around homes, and most ant species that are known pests are capable of establishing indoor nests. Indoor nesting ant pest species in Massachusetts include Pharaoh ants, odorous house ants, little black ants, thief ants, and even the increasingly common and medically significant European fire ant. Unfortunately, the most commonly controlled ant pests in residential areas throughout the country, carpenter ants, are particularly notable for their destructive habit of carving out nesting cavities within homes and buildings.

Ants belonging to the Camponotus genus are commonly referred to as carpenter ants due to their habit of tunneling into natural wood sources like logs and stumps in order to establish nests. Several carpenter ant pest species can be found in the country, and while not all of them are known for infesting structural woodwork within homes, the most common carpenter ant pest species found in Massachusetts also happens to be the most structurally damaging and economically costly carpenter ant pest in the entire country. This species is commonly known as the “black carpenter ant” (C. pennsylvanicus), and ant workers of this species are easily recognizable for their unusually large body size and jet black exterior.

The carpenter ant pest species inhabiting the western US are known for their preference for establishing large nests within conifer trees, while eastern carpenter ant pest species, including the black carpenter ant, prefer to establish smaller nests within deciduous trees. Like most ant species, carpenter ant swarmers (alates) initiate nests, and the female alate goes on to become the queen of a new colony. These founding nests are known as “parent nests,” and they are always located outdoors, but once colonies mature, workers leave the parent nest in order to establish smaller “satellite nests,” elsewhere.

Satellite nests are often established in wood, but since workers are not as dependent on moisture within damp wood as queens and immature offspring, workers are also able to establish satellite nests beneath wood piles, plant litter, within indoor wall voids, and occasionally, within structural wood. Worker ants invade homes in the summer, usually for the purpose of locating food or to escape disagreeable climatic conditions. Although workers are capable of dwelling within hidden indoor satellite nests for long periods, they will not survive unless they maintain contact with the outdoor parent nest. Because of this, hidden infestations are normally noticed when workers make occasional trips in and out of homes.

Have you ever witnessed large black ants moving in formation within your home?