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What Do Carpenter Ants Look Like?

a good look at a carpenter ant

We all know what ants look like, but what do carpenter ants look like? Not many of us can differentiate a carpenter ant from a dry wood termite? These two creatures have some similar features that can make it harder for you to know the difference. And since there are more than 12,000 species of ants globally, it can sometimes be daunting to know the exact species of ants in your compound. However, in this article, we’ll go through some things that can help you distinguish between carpenter ants, other ants, and other similar creatures.

What Are Carpenter Ants?

Carpenter ants are ant species from the Camponotus genus. Their name comes from the fact that they build their nests by excavating through moist wood. You’re likely to find them on rotting logs and stumps, around windows, on porches, under decks, or inside the roof (all of which are in abundance here in New York, from Buffalo to Albany). These pests feed on other insects or household items such as sugar, honeydew, jelly, meat, syrup, and fat. They stay in colonies that contain different specialized castes, including queens, workers, and reproductive swarmers.

Unlike wood termites, which feed on wood, carpenter ants carve through the wood by removing sawdust-like bits known as frass to make their homes. They are common in the US, but you’ll also find them in many other parts across the world. Carpenter ants can be frustrating since they inflict gradual but permanent damage on wood.

What Does A Carpenter Ant Look Like?

Although you may find a vast array of pests that look like carpenter ants crawling around your home, there are a few things that can help you identify them.


The first thing you need to look at is the size. Of all the ants, carpenter ants are the largest. They can measure anything from 4mm to 12mm in length. However, it is essential to know that size may not be a reliable identification factor since various colony members vary in size.


It is also challenging to identify a carpenter ant by its color since different species come with different hues. However, they come in dark brown, black, red, or yellow colorations.

The western carpenter ant species tend to be dull black and boast gold hairs on their abdomens and reddish legs.

Other Characteristics

Carpenter ants also boast other unique features that you can use to identify them. One such part is the thorax. Unlike other pests and insects, which have irregular shaped thorax, carpenter ants have a rounded thorax. Therefore, if the segment just below the head is round, you may be looking at a carpenter ant.

You can also use a magnifying glass to observe other features, such as a heart-shaped head and a circle of hairs around the anus. When you look closely between the thorax and the abdomen of a carpenter ant, you’ll discover that unlike field ants, odorous and crazy ants, carpenter ants have a single node at their waist.

Is It True That Carpenter Ants Can Fly?

swarming carpenter ant
Mature Colonies Take 3-5 Years To Develop Winged Ants Also Know As Swarmers.

Yes, some carpenter ants can fly. This is a key indicator when you’re evaluating a critter to determine of it is a carpenter ant. Since carpenter ants are social insects, they stay in large colonies with three castes: workers, swarmers, and queens. The most common carpenter ants you’ll likely encounter in your home are the workers. These are wingless, and as their name insinuates, they exist to work and look for food. These ants don’t fly but rather ensure that the colony is fed, sheltered, and protected.

In every colony, the highest caste is the carpenter ant queens. These are responsible for laying eggs to produce new ants. During spring and early in summer, carpenter ant colonies start making winged males and females swarm to look for greener pastures. This winged development stage is the main reason why these lots of ants are known as swarmers.

They mate during the nuptial flights in preparation for starting new colonies. The males die in the process while the females land and shed the wings when they identify a suitable location to lay eggs and form new colonies. Therefore, if you see carpenter ants flying near your home in summer, don’t panic as they are on transit to an unknown destination.

When carpenter ants are swarming, they look like termites, and it can be challenging to differentiate between the two. However, you can check out these things to be able to know the difference. For starters, unlike termites, which have a thick waist, carpenter ants have a thin and noticeable waist. Additionally, while termites have a straight antenna, carpenter ants have clubbed or bent antennae. Lastly, carpenter ants have longer legs as compared to wood termites.

The Life Cycle Of Carpenter Ants

wood damage from carpenter ants
Structural Damage to Home From Black Carpenter Ant Colony

The life of a carpenter starts when the swarmers are on the nuptial flight. They mate while on transit, and as soon this happens, the male dies, and the females start looking for the best place to settle. Once the female identifies a suitable location, it seeks a small crack on a wet or old log or wood. Then, it carves a tunnel in the wood and encloses itself inside. The female stays inside the chamber until her eggs hatch and the little pests develop into workers. During the entire period, the female, referred to as the queen, utilizes stored fats and wing muscles as a nourishment source.

The queen feeds the young ants through salivary glands until they are capable of finding food on their own. The carpenter ant’s lifecycle from egg to adulthood is somewhere between 6 to 12 weeks. However, it can take three to six years for carpenter ants to develop stable colonies.

Why Are Carpenter Ants A Problem?

Since these pests create their homes by carving hollow chambers in wood, this can lead to the wood becoming weak. This process of ruining wood can compromise an entire structure’s structural integrity, putting families at risk. Wood structures with hollowed chambers are vulnerable to breaking and collapse when there are strong winds or storms. Carpenter ants can also be bothersome because they feed on household items such as syrup, sugar, and honey. And if you disrupt their operations, they can use their mandibles to bite you.

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