Flying ants in the home are rarely a good sign, and this is particularly true if they are seen indoors during the winter.
Finding a winged ant or two indoors during the summer does not necessarily mean there is a problem, but if winged ants are seen in the home during the winter months, there is a strong likelihood that there is a carpenter ant nest within the structure.
Differences Between Ants and Termites
Carpenter ants are very common across the U.S., but are often confused with termites. While some carpenter ants are significantly larger than termites—and are, in fact, one of the largest of all ant species, other types of this ant are quite small, thus size is not generally an accurate distinguishing factor.
- dark-colored bodies;
- narrow waists;
- elbowed (bent) antennae;
- hind wings being shorter than front wings.
Additionally, carpenter arts are more likely to be seen out in the open than are termites. While both carpenter ants and termites can be very destructive to structures, the two species differ in that fact that termites eat the wood in which they tunnel, while carpenter ants only nest in it; they do not eat it. Thus another distinguishing factor of carpenter ants is the frass (wood dust, soil, and insect parts) that is often found beneath openings to the nest.
Whether the sighted winged ant is a winged carpenter ant or a termite, however, the wings depict the insect to be of a reproductive male or queen—the only members of an ant colony that can reproduce. Ants and termites swarm to mate, after which the males die, having fulfilled their life's purpose, and the queens drop their wings to seek a nesting site.
It is for this reason that ants seen indoors during the summer may simply indicate that it has flown in from the outdoors, but is likely to die prior to finding an appropriate nesting site. However, because the ants are not active outdoors in the winter, a flying ant seen indoors at this time means that the ants are, indeed, nesting within the structure.
It is rare for termites to swarm at all in the winter, but they have been known to do so in warm areas of infested buildings.
However, the sudden appearance of swarming ants or termites in flight is one of the first signs of indoor infestation.
While carpenter ants may be found nesting in dry wood, they are more likely to be found in wood that is wet, damp, and/or rotting.
Carpenter Ant Treatment
If the carpenter ants have built their nest indoors, it is best treated with an insecticide. One option is the use of insecticidal dust, labeled for carpenters ants and for indoor household use, injected into the area(s) in which the ants are nesting. If access is difficult, it may be necessary to drill small holes through which the dust can be injected.
Another option is baits. Although baits are much slower acting, they can be easier and safer to use, as the foraging ants will pick up the bait and carry it back to the colony and queen, eventually eliminating the entire colony. Because ant baits sold in retail establishments are often labeled for a number of different ants, be sure to read the label to ensure it will be attractive to, and is labeled for, carpenter ants.
Insecticide sprays will have little impact on foraging ants, as the spray will kill only those ants out foraging for food. However, if the ants have simply flown indoor during the summer months, sprays can provide kill of these occasional invaders.
When using any insecticide, it is important and required by law to read and follow all label directions.