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Carpenter ants and termites are oftentimes mistaken for one another this time of year. It just so happens that swarmers (termites and carpenter ants with wings that are released from the colony when the colony matures) are triggered around the same time of year, commonly by the same conditions. Moisture and the warmth of the sun. Add a mild winter and the arrival of spring, and you have a recipe that could easily produce an ant infestation, or worse, damage to your home or business.
While you probably haven’t been thinking about how to get rid of carpenter ants or planning a termite treatment, spring has sprung and the bugs have begun. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) ants will invade homes and businesses in search of food earlier this year due to several months of warm weather, and termites will likely get a head start on finding new food sources, which sadly, include our homes and businesses.
So how do you differentiate between the two? Both insects attack wood, but in very different ways. In the swarmer stage – which is the stage of the life cycle most commonly discovered this time of year – they are similar, except for the difference in size. To the untrained eye, it’s easy to confuse the two. Here are some helpful tips for identifying termites from carpenter ants.
Most carpenter ant species establish their first nest in decayed wood and then later expand into sound wood, insulation and wall voids in homes and businesses. The damaged wood looks like galleries chewed through the wood with finely sanded texture. Carpenter ants actually chew and excavate their galleries so meticulously the wood appears to have been sanded. Spoiler Alert! Carpenter ants chew wood and excavate galleries, they do not eat wood!
Damage is not always visible, however seeing ants in any consistent patterns anywhere around a structure is not good news. Outside, carpenter ant nests can be found in the ground, in rotting fence posts, firewood, dead limbs of standing trees, under stones and fallen logs.
Primary or parent colonies are typically located outside. That means the workers foraging in your structure are usually secondary colonies. In mid-summer satellite nests containing workers, mature larvae, and pupae are established either outside or indoors. Typically in August winged males and females, and workers emerge as the workforce of next year’s population. A mature carpenter ant colony can contain more than 10,000 workers. In large colonies, it’s not uncommon to have multiple nests inside structures.
Subterranean termites eat wood, primarily spring wood as the harder summer wood is difficult for them to digest. This is why damaged wood has a layered look. Soil is typically found in the galleries, although in areas of high moisture termites can be found outside of mud tubing.
Termites can find their way into a structure around basement windows, doorways, under siding, sills, headers, porches or any structure in contact with the soil and exploit cracks less than 1/16″. While commonly found beneath the frost line, above rock formations and the water table, termites construct mud tubes to travel across conditions they cannot survive. These structures serve as roadways between the food source(s) and the nest. Swarming usually occurs in the spring (late winter in Florida).
Mature colonies can range from 60,000 to over a million workers and can consume as much as five grams of wood per day. There may also be more than one colony associated with a single structure. Termites cause an estimated $500 billion in damage each year, according to the National Pest Management Association. Damage caused by termites is not typically covered by homeowner’s insurance.
If you find either of these insects or their signs of damage in or around your home or business you will want to get professional help. Carpenter ants damage wood, are extremely resilient and can forage from distances as far as 100 yards or more once they take a liking to a structure for their food, water or shelter needs. Carpenter ants are very difficult to control because you must eliminate the nest. Ant control methods like spraying or baiting alone may not work. Treating termites is an undertaking for which you will definitely want to enlist the assistance of a professional.
Termite treatment options vary and having a termite expert customize a termite solution for you will go a long way toward giving you peace of mind. A professional, reputable termite and pest control company with professional, licensed and tenured termite control experts can inspect your home or business and protect your structure from wood-destroying insects like termites and carpenter ants.