Recognizing Carpenter Ants

by April Reinhardt
(last updated May 18, 2009)

Since ants thrive in most any ecosystem, and are indigenous in every part of the world except Antarctica, most everyone has seen an ant and can recognize them at first glance. They have a distinctive node-like body structure that forms a slender "wasp waist" and their antennae are elbowed, rather than straight. Flying ants are sometimes mistaken for wasps, since both are of the same family of insects.

Ants range in size from three-tenths of 1 inch up to 2 inches long, with carpenter ants near the upper end of that spectrum. Carpenter ants can be winged or wingless, red or black in color, and sometimes as large as 1 inch long. Carpenter ants only have one node and a thorax, while other common ants have two nodes.

Most commonly found in and around moist, wooded areas, carpenter ants are the most wood-destructive insects, making tunnels throughout solid wood including walls, floors, and household furniture. And because winged carpenter ants will fly, you might see them in your house in late winter or spring, and are sometimes confused with termites. Because both insects destroy wood and live in colonies, termites are often incorrectly identified as carpenter ants, and vice versa. It is important to distinguish between the two, however, since each are controlled by different methods. Here are the main differences between carpenter ants and termites:

Physical Characteristics of Carpenter Ants

  • Red or black in color.
  • Elbowed antennae.
  • Front wings are longer than the back wings.
  • Three distinct body segments, and a slim "wasp waist."
  • 1/4 inch up to 3/4 inch long.

Physical Characteristics of Termites

  • Pale yellow, pale gray, or brown in color.
  • Straight antennae.
  • Long wings of equal length.
  • Thick waisted with no distinct waist.
  • Typically only about 1/8 inch long.
  • If you store lumber or firewood outside of your home, or in a garage, make sure that you keep the wood moisture-free and elevated from the ground or floor, since carpenter ants will colonize in moist wood. They feed on sugar and protein and have been known to travel as far as 100 yards to find food and feed on such edibles as sugar, jelly, meats, and dead insects. If you suspect a carpenter ant infestation, remove their food source and call a professional exterminator for an assessment.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...

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