I was sent to a residential customer in Atlantic Highlands, NJ who had called us about some mysterious wood-like shavings found on the sill plate in his basement’s furnace room. During my inspection, I noticed some insect body parts mixed in with the wood shavings. I immediately knew what I was dealing with: wood-boring carpenter ants! When carpenter ants tunnel, they can leave behind “frass,” which resembles tiny wood shavings or sawdust, often containing dead insects. The workers push wood shavings out of the nest to keep the galleries clean. Say what you want about these ants, but they keep a tidy house. Whenever I find frass in my inspection, I carefully inspect nearby wood nearby for tunnels and probe for hollow spots. Certain areas in and around homes tend to support carpenter ant activity, like patios and foundations, especially when those sites are damp or food is nearby. Mulch and leaf litter is especially prone to harbor ants and other insects. The carpenter ants then enter structures through gaps and cracks foraging for food. With dry weather conditions or if there is too much water after heavy rain, ants will seek protection inside homes.
Carpenter ants are common, destructive pests. They are social insects that live in structured colonies. To get rid of an infestation, you have to locate and destroy the colony. Killing individual foraging ants is an exercise in futility. There will always be more where they came from. These ants are not particularly aggressive, however, when irritated or threatened, they can and will inflict a painful bite. To add insult to injury, they spray formic acid into the bite wound, increasing the pain. Avoid touching the ants or their nests.
Left unchecked, a carpenter ant infestation can spread rapidly, causing serious structural damage that can be expensive to repair. They usually nest within wood, excavating galleries or tunnels within rotting trees, although sound trees are not immune. Inside homes and other structures, they readily infest wood, foam insulation, and build nests in wall voids. They prefer to excavate soft wood already damaged by mold or other fungi, and are often a sign of a hidden water or moisture problem. Water and moisture issues can cause a host of problems for homeowners, not the least of which is attracting carpenter ants, termites, and other insects.
The Successful Resolution: I let the homeowner know that he was dealing with Carpenter ants, and with his permission, was ready and willing to take care of the problem then and there. With his go-ahead, I injected the gallery with insecticide dust to destroy the colony. Sure enough, after the dust was applied, the ants started exiting the gallery like their house was on fire. I have to be candid: it was great to watch. The customer also wanted to joined in and watch the destruction of the colony, and see the ants dropping and dying left and right. Even though we are now “civilized,” there is no doubt that we still have that primitive hunter instinct. It’s what makes my job so much fun! The customer thanked me, and he was very appreciative that I found and eliminated the carpenter ant infestation so quickly.