GUEST POST from Don: Fun Facts About Carpenter Ants

I’m coming up on 30 years in pest control.  After a few years as an employee, I became an owner.  Now I am an employee again (in another state).  I’m not paid as much working as an employee, but I don’t have to answer calls on weekends or deal with big issues.  I have seen things most people never imagine.  Some are even interesting.

A few years ago I took pictures of “Carpenter ant trails” in the grass.  Those ants sometimes wear grooves in the grassy soil and move blades of grass out of the way.

Ant trail in grass. Not a great picture since it was about to rain (heavily overcast)

A number of times I have observed Carpenter ants moving their entire colony to a new location.  If a storm blows down their nesting tree, they will move to a pre-selected satellite site that was prepared for that possibility.  The workers carry EVERYTHING to the new location, including eggs, larvae, young, their food supply, and the queen (she is too heavy to travel that far on her own).  It is one huge train of ants.

Once I opened up a colony and found their “food pantry.”  They had everything sorted into types and sizes.  In one gallery were dead spiders, another had beetles, another was small seeds, yet another was larger seeds.  Carpenter ants don’t want the same meal every day, so they go to the “pantry” to select their ingredients for that day.  Adult ants don’t chew well, so they take those ingredients to the larvae to get it chewed, they ask for some of the chewed food back.

The ants don’t like clutter on their trails.  Ants walking across a beam in one high-ceilinged living room kept tossing old construction sawdust over the side.  That is how we found out they were there.  They toss lots of things out of the hidden colonies, too.  Insect exoskeletons, sawdust, even ant poop.

While doing pest inspections for new buyers, I would sometimes find Carpenter ants hiding behind fiberglass insulation.  Fiberglass fibers are fairly straight, so when I would see a bit of fiber-fuzz I would know ants were nesting behind the insulation panel.  One time I took a picture, replaced the insulation and noted the colony (and location) on the form.  The sellers hired Company X to treat and their tech totally missed the obvious clue.  Then I was called to re-treat when the new owner moved in.  When I pulled back the insulation there was the entire colony.  Sometimes if you miss the big glaring clue you solve nothing.

Ant colony behind fiberglass insulation in a basement. Can see insulation at right. This is a main colony … there are masses of eggs.

They love smooth surfaces.  So, that fence or electric line that attaches to your house could be an ant superhighway to their new home.  Once a family decided to remove an old tree from their back yard.  The electric line used to go right through the branches.  Well, the ants from the main colony, looking for their satellite colony that had been in the tree, found the house instead.  The family was not thrilled to find hundreds of ants in the upstairs bedroom.  I do not think the ants were thrilled either since someone had removed their satellite colony.

How would you like to work your entire adult life alongside 1,200 of your sisters?  Then when you die they hold a service in your honor where they tear you into chunks and feed you to the ant larvae!!!  That’s called the “Carpenter ant retirement plan.”  No rocking chairs for the aged in the animal kingdom.

This is not the stuff you read about in Wikipedia.


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