As a Texas Department of Agriculture licensed WDI Inspector, I perform a wood-destroying insect inspection on about every other home I inspect in the San Antonio area. The most common threat to a structure is subterranean termites; small little insects who build tunnels from the soil into your home where they attack and eat the wood used to construct your house. Subterreanean termites can cause a lot of damage to a property, but I find that most modern homes are constructed in such a way as to limit or reduce the likelyhood of an infestation.
There’s another insect in San Antonio that can cause a lot of damage to your home that is a bit more resilient and unfortunately a bit more common: Carpenter Ants
What Are Carpenter Ants?
Carpenter ants are a group of ant species that are classified as wood-destroying insects. Carpenter ants attack any wood they can get to, carving out the wood with their large, powerful mandibles in order to make their nests. Carpenter ants, unlike termite species, do not actually eat wood; termites have a bacteria in their digestive system that allows them to break down the cellulose in wood for energey. Carpenter ants lack this. But, because carpenter ants do not eat wood, they are also more resilient to a common method of destroying termites, which includes using poisoned or bait wood.
What do Carpenter Ants Look Like?
There are a variety of carpenter ant species and they vary in appearance depending on location. Some are all black for example. In the San Antonio area, the carpenter ants typically are Large-ants with a black tail (abdomen) and red body (thorax). Large is important; there are plenty of ants that fit this color description but carpenter ants are some of the larger ants you will ever find, often a quarter-inch or larger. Because of this they are typically fewer in number than the much smaller ant species.
How Do I Know if I have Carpenter Ants in my Home?
First, it should be noted that carpenter ants are very common. I see carpenter ants sporadically on the exterior of homes often; this doesn’t indicate that they are necessisarily infesting the property. They typically live in trees, so if your property has trees over-hanging and touching your roof, you need to have the branches removed as the branches become a bridge for the ants to attack your roof structures.
Because carpenter ants don’t eat wood but hollow it out, a trademark sign of carpenter ant infestation is “saw dust” or fine wood shaving being found in an area. I will often find these shaving caught in a spider web. The ants will carve out the wood so that they can build their nests, and then deposit the wood shavings away from the nest. If you suddenly see wood-dust in piles, start investigating here.
How do I Treat / Get Rid of Carpenter Ants?
All treatments for carpenter ants typically involve finding and destroying the nest, but spray-pesticides can also be used. Poisoned baits that will be brought back to the nest are another common means of treatment. Carpenter ants are usually more cost-effective to treat than something like a termite infestation.
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Home Inspector Kyle D. Scott
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