What Happens to Carpenter Ants in the Winter?

Spring and summer are prime times for ants in most of the United States and the time of year when they'll typically show up in your yard and even your home. However, carpenter ants are serious pests that can remain active throughout the year and can damage your home no matter the season.

carpenter ants in winter

How badly can carpenter ants damage your home? It depends on the number present on your property and how long they have been actively living in it.

Identifying carpenter ants and locating their colonies is one of the first steps to effectively controlling them.

Why do carpenter ants come indoors?

Carpenter ants like to nest in soft and damaged wood, and wood in your home that may already be damaged from water can be a great nesting place. This is why finding carpenter ants in your home is often a sign of a bigger underlying water issue or leak.

And if you find a carpenter ant nest in your home, it may not be the source of the infestation. That's because carpenter ants often create satellite colonies. Even if you get rid of the ants in your home, the main colony may be in a tree outdoors and can send more ants and the cycle will continue.

While spring and summer can be active times for carpenter ants, they may also enter your home during the winter months when they are foraging for food and water. Like many ants, they are omnivores that have a strong liking for proteins, fats and sugars. Anything from pet food to sweet spills (such as jelly or honey) can lure them into your home. Once inside, these ants will also seek out moist conditions. They are most commonly attracted to areas around windows and doorways where condensation might collect, like in bathrooms, kitchens, drains, pipes and roof vents.

Do carpenter ants die in winter?

Carpenter ant colonies don't die in winter, but colonies may become dormant when temperatures drop. This depends on the situation and how much the temperature drops in their nesting area. However, if their nests stay warm enough due to mild outdoor temperatures, carpenter ants may become dormant or less active during the winter. Indoor colonies may also remain active, or revive from their dormant state, once you begin using the furnace or fireplace during the winter months.

What do carpenter ants look like?

Ants may look the same from a distance, but carpenter ants have some distinguishing characteristics. Researchers from the University of Minnesota provide the following tips for identifying carpenter ants:

  1. Look for a pinched waist. In addition, the thorax, which is the segment just below the head, will appear rounded.
  2. The antennae will be slightly bent.
  3. Workers will be black or red and black.
  4. Workers usually range in size from 3/8 to 1/2 inch long (about the size of a thumbnail); one species is only 3/16 inch.
  5. Workers of the same carpenter ant species may vary in size. The larger ants in the carpenter ant colony will seem larger than your average ant.
  6. Queens and males are larger than workers and have wings. Queens lose their wings once they start a new nest.
  7. Queens may be as large as one inch long.

Are carpenter ants bad?

Carpenter ants do bite and can cause pain and irritation. However, they only bite in self-defense if they're being handled. On the other hand, carpenter ants have powerful jaws that can bite and chew both hard and soft wood making them a real danger to the wooden structures they like to nest in.

Are carpenter ants a threat to my pets?

Bites can be painful for pets as well as humans. However, carpenter ants will typically only bite if threatened and won't go out of their way to attack your pet.

Are carpenter ants a threat to my home?

Carpenter ants can cause damage because they nest in the wood in your home, as well as excavate it to expand their nests. While they may start with rotting wood, they can tunnel into the sound wood of your home if left unchecked and cause significant damage to your home's structural integrity.

Signs of carpenter ant damage and infestation

Carpenter ants can sometimes be confused with termites because both insects can be found in your home and damage the wood in structural supports, walls and floors. However, carpenter ants are easy to distinguish from termites and other wood-destroying insects if you know what to look for.

Look for the following identifiers that are distinctive signs of carpenter ants:

  1. Carpenter ant swarmers have narrow waists, segmented elbowed antennae and a set of large forewings with a set of smaller hind wings. By contrast, termite swarmers have broad waists and straight antennae. Their two sets of wings are uniform in size compared to carpenter ants.
  2. While termites eat and gnaw through wood, carpenter ants bore through wood and take up residence in structures.
  3. If you have an infestation of carpenter ants, you'll likely be able to see them. These creatures will venture forth in search of food and you may see them trailing across window sills or baseboards. Unlike carpenter ants, termites typically stay hidden and prefer to eat away at the wood in your home.
  4. While termites' diet consists of wood, carpenter ants typically consume sugars and protein. While both termites and carpenter ants are attracted to wood and moisture, carpenter ants only nest in wood and feed on a variety of things, including dead insects, honeydew produced by aphids and a variety of sweets and other foods.

What can I do to stop carpenter ants from coming into my house during the winter?

One way to help keep carpenter ants out of your home is to make it as difficult as possible for them to get in. For more information about pest-proofing your home, check out our guide.

How do you control a carpenter ant infestation?

Occasionally, one or two ants may catch a ride on firewood you bring indoors, but these ants cannot establish indoor residency. However, if you notice individual carpenter ants in your house during the late fall or winter, there is likely a nest somewhere inside your home.

To control a carpenter ant infestation, it is not enough to simply dispose of the ants you see. Their nests, both satellite and main colony, should be fully removed. Worker ants in a carpenter ant colony will continue to spawn and tunnel until you eliminate the queen(s). Because it can be tricky to locate the main colony and all of the satellite nests around your home, your best bet is to contact a pest control professional to help you remove these pests.

The pest control professionals here at Terminix® know the effective measures needed to get rid of carpenter ants. We can help protect your home against this busy pest during the winter and year-round. Contact Terminix today to get a free quote.


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