What Are Carpenter Ants?

What Are Carpenter Ants?

Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) chew through wood to build intricate tunnels—hence their common name. These large ants can be black or red in color. Carpenter ants create nests inside moist or dry wood, and they may extend their presence through parent and satellite colonies. 

These big, bold ants are among the largest in the world, and various species can be found in different places in the United States. The species that could be running around your yard will likely depend on your location and climate. 

That being said, if you see an unusually large ant, there is a fairly good chance that you’re looking at a carpenter ant. There are some additional steps you can take to identify the ant you’re looking at, though. 

But, remember—you don’t actually need to know what kind of pest you’re dealing with to call us at Joshua’s Pest Control. Our helpful, friendly experts will come to your home to take a look at the pests and devise a plan so you get your space back without unwelcome visitors.


Carpenter ants are fairly common, but if you haven’t seen them before, they can give you a little bit of a surprise. They stand out, and they can become a significant pest in and around homes as their colonies grow.

Like most ants, carpenter ants have three segments to their bodies as well as two elbowed antennae and six legs. They have a head, thorax, and abdomen. They also have a petiole, which looks like a little thin rod at the waist. 

From the side, carpenter ants look smooth and rounded, but they do have some light hairs (yellow or white) in some species. Those hairs can give the abdomen a lightly striped appearance.

Carpenter ants are normally black, but there are some species that are red or a mixture of the two colors. Variations can occur, but keep in mind that the color isn’t the most notable feature. Instead, it’s the size of the ant that tends to give it away. 

The carpenter ant workers in North America can get up to 12 mm long in some species (that’s around a half-inch). For queens? An inch is typical. Few other ant species in the world get up to that size, so if you find an inch-long winged or wingless ant, the likelihood is that you’ve found a carpenter ant. 

Additionally, reproductive members of the carpenter ant species will have wings during mating season. The queens drop their wings after they mate, and the males usually die. So, it’s not uncommon to find wings lying on the ground or on a windowsill if you have an infestation. 

Carpenter ants have strong jaws and mandibles (after all, they do chew through wood). So, while they can’t sting, these ants can bite. Additionally, when they bite, they can spray formic acid onto the wound. That acid makes the wound burn, so you’ll certainly know if an ant has bitten you.


A carpenter is a person who cuts, fits, carves, or creates designs using wood as their main material. As such, it makes sense that carpenter ants get their name from the actions they complete while building their nests. They excavate wood and create tunnels inside. 

Those tunnels come together to create “galleries,” or nesting sites, where they may lay eggs, take care of larvae, or monitor pupae. You may figure out that you have carpenter ants by discovering piles of sawdust around an entrance hole.


Carpenter ants can live all over the place, but they prefer areas with moisture. So you’re most likely to find them in damp, dying, decaying wood (the three Ds). You’ll find many of them in the eastern United States, but there are species in the western U.S. as well. For example, the C. pennsylvanicus is the most common species of black carpenter ant in Ohio, while C. modoc and C. vicinus are both common species of carpenter ants in California.. 

For nesting, carpenter ants usually nest in dead or decaying trees. They will also nest in logs, dead branches, stumps, and branches. Rarely, there are species that will nest in soil, but this is uncommon. 

In your home, you’re most likely to find carpenter ants in materials that have been water damaged. For instance, if a leak in your bathroom soaked a wooden beam and caused it to degrade behind your wall, you could find that carpenter ants have made a home there. 

Carpenter ants make a primary nest, called a parent nest, before starting satellite nests. The nest found in moist wood is generally the parent nest. Other satellite nests may be in dry wood since this type of nest doesn’t house eggs. Instead, satellite nests only contain workers, pupae, and mature larvae.


Carpenter ants can infest homes, and when they do, there’s a risk that they could damage both the house as well as other wooden structures on the property.

Carpenter ants don’t set out to infest homes like other pests may do (such as opportunistic German cockroaches), but they will go anywhere there is wet, decaying wood. After building a parent colony, they’ll expand to satellite colonies.

Since carpenter ants can be found almost everywhere in the United States and North America, it’s probable that you’ll come upon one here or there. When this pest comes inside—through cracks in doors, windows, and foundations; decaying wood; or other entry points—they will search for moist, damp, wooden areas. 

If they find that kind of area in your home, they’ll start to chew away at the wood and establish tunnels to create their galleries. In those galleries, a carpenter ant queen will lay eggs and the number of ants in the infestation will increase.

Some of the common places to look for carpenter ants include:

  • In crawl spaces
  • Behind bathroom walls
  • In bathroom or kitchen flooring, especially around water pipes
  • In sheds or garages where water may be plentiful

It’s also important to remember that carpenter ants will build in dry wood, too. So if there is a well-established parent colony outside that needs to expand, there is a potential for the colony to grow a satellite branch in your home, even if your house itself doesn’t have moist wood. 


There are multiple ways that you can know if you have carpenter ants in your home. Of course, the easiest way is to see the ants themselves, but there are other signs you can keep in mind as well.


  1. You see carpenter ants indoors. While a single carpenter ant might not be a sign that there is a colony, if you start to see a few here and there (especially trying to source food), then you know you have a problem. 
  2. You find unusual wood shavings. If you find a pile of what looks like sawdust on the floor, and you haven’t done any recent renovations, the culprit could be carpenter ants chewing through your wooden beams and making a new gallery. 
  3. You start finding wings around the windows. Wings don’t necessarily mean you have ants—they could also mean you have termites. However, if you have seen large ants around your house and see wings, you can suspect that the carpenter ants may have mated and dropped their wings inside.
  4. You find big ants around a tree with a large hole. Check your tree in the evening or early morning hours. If you see large ants crawling up and down into the hollow, there is a good chance that you have carpenter ants on your property and that they could extend their colonies into your home. 
  5. You hear unusual sounds coming from the walls. As carpenter ant colonies get larger, the ants’ movement will begin to make noises loud enough for you to hear. Listen carefully when your home is quiet. If you hear noises in your walls, call our experts to help figure out what’s hiding inside. 
  6. You find holes in your wood. Whether it’s outside in your siding or you find a hole in an internal beam when you’re doing a renovation, that hole could mean that a carpenter ant is nearby or that a colony has started to establish itself. 
  7. You find dead ants. It’s not unusual to find dead carpenter ants lying on the ground near wood shavings or dropped wings. Males typically die after mating, and dead ants are thrown out of the tunnels along with wood dust. 
  8. There is a swarm outside. Carpenter ant swarmers (reproductive members of the species) will swarm when they are mating. If you see a swarm, it means there is very  likely a colony outside somewhere. Swarms don’t usually happen unless the colony is at least two years old, too, so the infestation is likely well established.
  9. You see an ant trail or path in your yard. Ants often walk in long paths, so you’ll see several trailing behind one another as they forage. Carpenter ants don’t always walk in a perfectly straight line, but they still tend to follow a path of some kind, such as by walking along the length of a hose laid on the ground. 
  10. You find smooth, yet damaged, wood. Whether it’s during a renovation or you peel back some drywall to take a look, smoothed wood with damage, such as holes in it, can be a sign that carpenter ants are at work. 

If you notice one or two of these signs, take quick action to prevent further damage. Our pest control experts can perform an inspection and recommend a plan to get rid of these destructive pests.


Whether you have small ants in your kitchen or believe you have carpenter ants making colonies in your walls, our pest control experts are here to help you figure out what’s intruding on your property. We’ll perform an inspection, identify the culprit, and collaborate with you to devise the best treatment plan for your needs. 

We’re here to help; call us today at Joshua’s Pest Control to get a free quote. 



Courtney Enzor has worked in the pest control industry for about a decade. From helping you build a fly trap to giving you the best tips for identifying various bugs, she loves answering all your pest-related questions and sharing her pest-related expertise through writing. At the end of the day, she hopes her content will help people avoid mishaps and keep families happy and healthy!