Carpenter Ants

It was a dark and stormy night…
Crack! Zap! Pow! Kaboom!

A huge branch from a maple in my front yard fell. Fortunately, it was a limb facing away from the house. Having received my fair warning, I had the tree removed. The tree had been hit by lightning several times and was soft in the main crotch.

Once the tree was cut down, a complex ecosystem was revealed. The wood was moist and harboring extensive tunnels of carpenter ants. The extensive tunneling weaken the tree and made it more susceptible to structural failure in a storm. It is prudent to remove damaged trees if they are too close to a house.

Carpenter ants do not eat wood. They chew tunnels in the wood to make a nest. Carpenter ants prefer moist wood to dry wood. In houses they often get a start when wood becomes wet due to a plumbing or roof leak or to poor construction that allows wood to stay wet. This tree had been struck by lightning. That allowed the wood to become wet and become a good site for a carpenter ant nest.

This tree was cut down in spring. In the picture, you can see major and minor forms of carpenter ant adults along with alate reproductives. The major ants are well suited to colony defense and the minors are well suited to foraging.

The wings of the reproductives allow them to mate with more distant colonies and prevent inbreeding. Once a pair is mated, the female will land next to a nesting site. Her wings will break off and she lays eggs to start a new colony. In some instances, new colonies are near old ones and the colonies may have multiple queens.

Once the first brood is reared to adult, they take over all the foraging and upkeep of the colony. Ants forage intensively in a limited area around their nest. Wings would be an impediment to life in the nest and flying could blow them away from the nest and they would be lost to the colony. These are the primary reasons why workers do not have wings and reproductives lose their wings once they start a new colony.

Carpenter Ants

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
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