Identifying a Carpenter Ant Nest

Identifying a Carpenter Ant Nest


Carpenter ants (Camponotus genus) are black or reddish-colored ants that can be found all over the world. These ants, which are unusually large, create nests in wood, which is how they get their name.

If you believe you have carpenter ants in your home or have recently seen carpenter ant swarmers (reproductive members of the species), it’s time to take action. Our experts at Joshua’s Pest Control can inspect your home and make sure you don’t have any infestations. And, if you do, we’ll help you get rid of them.


Carpenter ants have the potential to nest both inside your home and outside in your yard. They nest in moist or damp, decaying wood, so they could be anywhere that kind of wood is present. They can also live in dry wood in some cases, so if you see carpenter ants but can’t find damp or moist areas, they could still be nesting nearby.


As you start to look for carpenter ants indoors, some of the places to check include:

  • Wall voids
  • Wood frames in garages, houses, and sheds
  • Window or door frames
  • Chimneys
  • Roofing
  • Attics
  • Damp places, such as crawl spaces or below leaking bathtubs or toilets


For the most part, carpenter ants prefer to nest outside. They will travel up to 100 yards to and from satellite and parent nests, so check within that range for nests in:

  • Tree holes
  • Tree branches
  • Decaying or dry logs
  • Utility poles
  • Tree trunks
  • Tree stumps
  • Wooden siding

Look for damp, decaying, or dying wood for the most likely chance of finding these ants and their colonies.

THE SOUND OF CARPENTER ANTS? Did you know that you can listen for the sound of carpenter ants in your home? As nests and colonies grow in size, you’ll be able to hear rustling or scratching in your walls. Sit still and listen in the early morning or evening hours, as this is when many ants may be coming or going. If you hear something, get close to the wall and listen. Any scratching noises should be investigated. Mark the spot with a pencil and give our experts a call


Carpenter ant nests aren’t really “made” of something but instead are a result of them tunneling through wood. Carpenter ants nest within the voids they create in the wood.

To create a nest, carpenter ants chew wood and eject it from the tunnel. That’s why you can often find sawdust-like debris around the tunnel entrance. They don’t eat wood, so that sawdust pile is almost always present.

As these ants chew through the wood, they make small tunnels that link together. These are called galleries.

One important note to keep in mind is that the tunnels carpenter ants make are all very smooth. They’re smooth because these ants have sandpaper-like mandibles (their jaw-like crushing organ) that wear down the wood into a smooth feel. Inspecting the texture of the tunnels is one of the ways our field experts distinguish carpenter ant activity from the activity of other wood-destroying pests.

Another note to keep in mind is that not all carpenter ants make nests in the same way. Some are opportunistic, such as the Florida carpenter ant, and will make nests in voids that already exist. Soft, pithy wood is their preference since it’s the easiest to chew through.

A group of ants on a piece of wood


Carpenter ants build nests to lay eggs and raise their young. While some people assume carpenter ants are eating the wood, they aren’t. The purpose of the tunnels is solely housing.

When carpenter ants create their tunnels in moist environments, it’s to lay their eggs. The queen will lay eggs in the parent colony and then have workers help her attend to them. Eggs can only be laid in moist environments, so if you find them, that means you’ve most likely found a parent colony.

Carpenter ants also create satellite colonies, which are colonies away from the main nest, once their parent nests have matured. There are additional differences between these two nests, but if there are no eggs, you can be fairly sure that you’ve found a satellite colony and not the main nest.

A group of ants on a piece of wood


Carpenter ants make two kinds of nests. The first is a parent colony, which is the primary colony where the queen lays her eggs and raises larvae and pupae. The second kind—a satellite colony—is a colony created when the primary parent colony matures. Additional queens and workers head to the satellite colony to establish them.

Carpenter ants can have multiple queens in a colony. On top of that, they can have up to 20 satellite colonies. They will, and do, travel between colonies, too.

Another interesting fact is that the satellite colonies don’t contain eggs because eggs must have moisture. Satellite colonies may be built in places without moisture, such as in dry wood or a home’s insulation. That’s why satellite colonies may only have pupae, larvae, and workers present.

It is possible to have only a parent colony on your property, but the likelihood of that is low if an infestation has reached inside your home. Carpenter ant nests found indoors are usually satellite colonies of a parent colony located outside in wooded areas with decay or dampness.

Since the parent colony must have at least 2,000 workers before forming a satellite colony, you can expect that at least 2,000 workers are already somewhere within 100 yards of the nest you’ve discovered if it’s not the parent colony.

A group of ants carrying a piece of food


To locate a carpenter ant nest, the first step is to find places where carpenter ants may want to build a nest. For example, carpenter ants usually like building their nests in damp, decaying wood, so if you have rotting wood anywhere around your home, that could be a potential site for nests.

Carpenter ants that come inside will normally build nests inside the voids of walls or around leaks. If you suspect a water leak or know you had one recently, that will be an area to investigate. Additionally, if you bring firewood indoors, inspect it thoroughly before bringing it inside since it could contain carpenter ants.

Once you determine possible locations for carpenter ant nests, start looking for ant holes. Carpenter ants create holes in walls or other wooden structures. You may see a small pile of sawdust (sometimes containing dead ant parts) at the entrance of the hole. Carpenter ants remove the sawdust as they chew through wood, so this is a big sign that you have carpenter ants inside.

If you can’t find a hole, another option is to follow the ants as they work. While this can be time intensive, if you can spot a trail of ants, you can also figure out where they live. They will, essentially, take you directly to a parent or satellite colony.

Remember, we don’t need you to find the nest—our experts are prepared to inspect your home, find ant nests, and get rid of them for you.


Carpenter ants are found all over the United States and can cause damage to your home and property if left unaddressed. If you’ve found holes in wood, sawdust shavings, or ants that you’re not sure what to do with, give our experts at Joshua’s Pest Control a call for effective ant-eliminating solutions for your home and yard.