Black Carpenter Ants – A Quick Guide

Black carpenter ants, Camponotus pennsylvanicus, are found across North America.

How did the carpenter ant get its name?

They nest inside wood. Named after their behavior of chewing into wood to create their nests they are regarded as pests by many. They can cause significant damage to wooden structures. In the wild they hollow out trees. They are certainly not an insect you want nesting in your home.

How big and strong are black carpenter ants?

The workers come in different sizes. The workers have been measured to an average size of about 0.5 inches (1.6 cm). Their jaws are also very large which helps them to chomp on wood. It has been shown that these ants can lift up to 50 times their own weight. The strongest insects relative to their size are rhino beetles. Check out the Atlas beetle here.

Black carpenter ant
Black carpenter ant – Marc

Do black carpenter ants leave sawdust everywhere?

They are known to clean up after themselves. Carpenter ants not only remove the small pieces of wood that they chew, but they will also remove dead insect matter, old food, and other types of trash from their nests and tunnels. They also clean up their nests and tunnels using a resin which they collect while they work. If small piles of debris are noticed around holes it may be a strong indication that a carpenter ant nest is present.

How big are carpenter ant colonies?

Carpenter ant colonies can be many years old, potentially 20 plus years old in fact. Older colonies have the potential to be enormous with adult populations of 50,000 or more. Newer colonies in contrast may have around 2000 ants.

Do carpenter ants swarm?

Carpenter ants do swarm but only in mature colonies that are at least 2-3 years old. Each year winged ants will swarm on mass to new sites to set up new colonies. In addition to this colonies can also have satellite nests within the vicinity of the main nest site.

Do carpenter ants fly?

During a nuptial flight, carpenter ants will have wings. The males and females mate during flight. The males die soon after mating. The inseminated queen ant will establish a new colony and lose her wings. The muscles that powered her wings will become an important source of protein for her as her body absorbs as much stored nutrients as possible in the early days of a colony.

How long do carpenter ants live?

Carpenter ant queens have been known to live for 25 years or more. By contrast worker ants only live for a few months, maybe up to 10 months at most. The colony will continue to grow as long as the queen is alive and producing eggs. She will only be inseminated once in her life and stores all the semen she needs to create female workers.

Do carpenter ants eat wood?

Black carpenter ants do chew on wood, so many people believe they also eat it. This is not the case. They chew on the wood using their strong mandibles, but they don’t swallow it. The dust and small pieces of wood that come from making their nests and tunnels are expelled and cleared by the ants.

What do carpenter ants eat?

They eat sugary foods such as fruit juices and honeydew. The honeydew is a byproduct produced by aphids. The aphids are therefore protected by the ants to secure a good supply of honeydew. If their supply of honeydew is limited the ants may be bolder in entering houses to find alternative supplies of sugar. They also eat insects although insects are mostly fed to the larvae within the nest.

Can carpenter ants bite and sting?

They can not sting, but they can bite. When a carpenter ant feels threatened they might bite you in self-defense. They will also bite if they sense that their nests are in danger. Carpenter ants do not have stingers, so they cannot sting you. They have strong jaws and when they bite they inject the wound with formic acid. A normal bite from a black carpenter ant will feel like you have been pinched very hard.

Are carpenter ants active in the winter?

During the wintertime black carpenter ants will hibernate in their nests. If a colony is indoors and close to heat it can happen that they will build more nests and tunnels during the winter. If you see carpenter ants in the winter it’s a pretty good indication of an infestation. 

Do carpenter ants have lungs?

Black carpenter ants as with all insects do not have lungs. They breathe in oxygen through spiracles, which are tiny holes located on the sides of their bodies. While the ants move, they circulate the oxygen through these tubes and distribute the oxygen to every cell in their bodies. They also release carbon dioxide using these spiracles. This also means that they are able to submerge underwater as by closing these spiracles they are able to survive on stored oxygen supplies for hours.

Do carpenter ants make noises?

Carpenter ants can make noise when they are excavating their nests within wood. It can sound like a muffled crackling noise. This is not a noise you want to hear in your walls as it could mean an infestation. Typically these ants would be excavating inside trees in a natural environment.

Do carpenter ants sleep?

Studies do appear to show that they do have regular cycles of inactivity and testing showed that during the cycle of inactivity brain activity did diminish which may well indicate evidence of sleep. Their rest period isn’t as long as ours, however, with the research suggesting they sleep for around 8 minutes a day. (source)