Carpenter ants identification is easy — in addition to seeing the swarmers and the workers, you might see sawdust that looks more like wood shavings near their tunnels. The tunnels are called gallery walls, and they are smooth tunnels in the wood that look like they were sandpapered. You may also see ant body parts and pieces of insulation in the sawdust.
Carpenter ants, or Camponotus herculeanus, prefer wood that has been softened due to fungus or moisture, so the first places to check for them are in bathrooms and in the kitchen. If you have wood exterior walls and the wood is old and rotted in some places, check those places for carpenter ants.
The worker ants can grow up to ½-inch in length and are usually black. Different species exist, though, and one, the carpenter ant has a black abdomen and reddish-brown thorax and red. The workers of this species grow up to about ¼ inch. Carpenter ants size varies within the same species, so you may see carpenter ants with wings that are larger or smaller than the typical size.
Carpenter ants don’t eat the wood — they just build their nests in it. They do eat the honeydew from aphids, meat, sweets, other insects — living or dead, and fats. These ants are usually more active at night. The ants sound like you are balling up a wad of cellophane when they are in their colonies. If you use a stethoscope, you may hear them in your walls if you are infested.
Carpenter ants bite, but usually only if it feels threatened. It will bite any size creature, even you and your pets. If you miss when you try to squash the ant, it could bite you. Or, if you try to pick up the ant, it could bite you.
Black carpenter ants will also bite if they believe their nest is in danger. If you disturb a nest, you risk getting bit by multiple ants. The bites could be painful — they feel like you’ve been pinched hard. You may also feel a burning sensation at the bite spot. The ant may break your skin when it bites, and you could get an ant bite blister.
The area you’ve been bitten turns red and the skin could be raised. The bite will usually itch until it heals. The ants don’t use venom. Instead, they spray formic acid, which, in most cases, isn’t dangerous to humans. If you are allergic to carpenter ant bites, you may feel pain longer than a few seconds or minutes and the area will swell more than it normally would. You may need medical attention, depending on how much you react to the bite.
Washing the bite with antibiotic soap and water washes away the formic acid and will help heal the bite faster. If the bite broke the skin, cover the area with a bandage. Ice or a cold compress could help with the burning sensation if it doesn’t subside or the bite is overly uncomfortable. The burning should subside within 10 minutes of icing the area.