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Ants in Your Plants (and Buildings)?

One of the most destructive insect pests is carpenter ants. Their presence should not be treated lightly as they can cause significant structural damage is a short period of time. Here’s some helpful information to help you identify these varmints:

Carpenter ant workers are about 1/4 inch - 1 inch long, dull black with reddish legs and golden hairs covering the abdomen. Queens are about 5/8+ inches long. Other color combinations are red and black, or completely red or brown. Although carpenter ants do not sting, their bites can be quite painful, especially when they inject formic acid into the wound.

External infestation is usually indicated when there are small openings on wood surface. Here the workers will expel debris which consists of sawdust-like shavings and fragments of insulation and insect body parts. They prefer to a hollow out soften wood that has moisture problems and fungus.

Carpenter ant colonies often number over 3,000 workers (up to 10-20,000 including satellite nests) when maturity is reached in about 3 to 6 years. Large colonies contain about 100,000 workers. Full metamorphosis from egg to adult takes at least 60 days for the worker ants. There is usually only one functional, wingless queen per colony. Swarmers (reproductive ants) are not produced until the colony is more than 2-3 years old. Swarmers appear from February through June.

The workers forage for distances of up to 300 feet from the nest gather their food which consist of: insect honeydew, plant and fruit juices, insects, and other arthropods. Although some workers are active during the day, most are active from dusk to till dawn. Most carpenter ants establish their first nest in decayed wood and later expand into sound wood. Workers are destructive to timbers utilized for nesting activities. Outside nests are typically located in rotting fence posts, stumps, old firewood, dead portions of standing trees, and under stones or fallen logs. To discourage infestation, remove these attractive nuisances. In particular, never store firewood next to structures.

The presence of a nest is sometimes indicated by a rustling sound coming from wall voids or from wood where the colony is located. Also, the presence of swarmers indoors may be the first indication of an indoor colony.

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