No group of insect pests can damage the structural wood of homes and buildings as frequently, and as covertly as termites can, but termites are not the only insect pests of structural wood found in the northeast. With the exception of the eastern subterranean termite, which is the most devastating termite pest in the country, carpenter ants are the most destructive and economically costly structural pests in the northeast. Several wood-boring beetle species in the northeast are also common pests of structural wood, most notably powderpost beetles and old house borer beetles. The region is also home to multiple carpenter bee species that frequently excavate nesting tunnels within exposed woodwork, such as fences, porches, and wood siding. While these lesser-known wood-destroying insect pests are not as destructive as termites, they infest structures more often than many people would like to suppose. In fact, a recent nationwide survey of pest management professionals revealed that carpenter ants, carpenter bees, and powderpost beetles followed eastern subterranean termites as the top four most frequently managed wood-destroying insect pests within homes and buildings during the 2016 year.

Dozens of carpenter ant species can be found in the US, many of which are known pests of structures, but not all carpenter ant pests infest structural wood. The black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus) is the most commonly managed and economically costly carpenter ant pest species in the US, and they can only be found in the east where they are most abundant within and around wooded areas. Black carpenter ant swarmers known as “alates” establish colonies within outdoor wood piles, tree hollows, stumps, and firewood. During the nighttime hours, workers leave the original “parent nest” in order to forage, which may take them as far as 300 feet from their nesting site. Workers periodically mark the expansion of their colony’s foraging territory by establishing small “satellite nests” around the parent nest. Workers often enter cracks, crevices and other narrow entry points on the exterior walls of homes and buildings in order to seek out indoor food sources, such as sugars, meats, fats, and dead insects. While indoors, workers frequently establish satellite nests within wall voids, but not necessarily within structural wood. If workers find the moisture content in wall voids to be satisfactory, they will not expend energy excavating nests in moist and decayed structural wood. Black carpenter ant workers are among the largest worker ants in the US, as they are generally between 1/4 to 1/2 an inch in length with a shiny black exterior, making them easy to notice before they start picking away at finished wood. Sealing potential entry points and controlling indoor moisture will keep carpenter ant workers from nesting indoors.

Have you ever encountered exceedingly large black ants within your home?