Pest management companies in Canada say it’s likely that an unusually snowy winter has allowed a high number of carpenter ants to survive the winter.
They say the number of carpenter ants is on the rise in Windsor, Ont., and Halifax, N.S.
Steve Pelletier of Steve's Pest Management says he has already responded to 220 calls for carpenter ants this year. He had 237 carpenter ants calls in all of 2013.
The red carpenter ant and the black carpenter ant are two of the most common types found in Canada. The red carpenter ant has a dark brownish-black body, with a reddish-brown upper body. The black carpenter ant is dark brownish-black all over.
Carpenter ants are from 6 to 25 mm (.24 to 1 inch) long. A carpenter ant's body is divided into three segments, with a very slim "waist" separating the upper body and lower body. Their antennae are bent and in sections. Male and female adults have wings at mating time.
Source: federal government
Windsor is not alone in its fight against carpenter ants. Residents in Halifax, N.S., have also noticed an increase in the number of carpenter ants.
Allen Stewart, who works for Steve’s Pest Management in Windsor, said the majority of his workload consists of dealing with carpenter ants.
Carpenter ants have their own type of “antifreeze,” used to survive the winter as they hibernate. Stewart reasons that the deep snow this winter served as insulation, making it easier for a higher number of ants to survive.
Now, they’re out foraging for food and establishing new colonies.
“In the early spring or late fall you’ll see large ants moving around in the house. They’re low on feed so they start wandering and looking for food,” he said. “Most people complain when they actually see the ants.”
Stewart said 95 per cent of a colony stays in its main nest, but there could be 13 satellite nests in one location.
“You won’t see damage until much later on,” Stewart said.
Call wood home
Carpenter ants dig into wood and lay eggs.
“They don’t eat wood. They make a home in there,” Stewart said.
Margaret Gillis had a carpenter ant problem.
“My bathroom window pane fell out. I knew something was wrong,” she said. “Something had eaten around the pane.
“There were only four in the tub but I knew they had to come from somewhere.
“I didn’t realize they were around. This was something different.”
They also chew up Styrofoam, insulation and stucco homes. Deck posts, fences and railroad ties also make good homes.
Outdoors, carpenter ants are found in dead trunks of standing trees, stumps, or logs, or under fallen logs
Carpenter ants eat both plant and animal matter. Their natural food sources are insects, other small invertebrates, and sweet body fluids from aphids and other insects.
Stewart said if you can’t see the ants, you might be able to hear them. They knock on walls, he said.
“The ants will actually knock. If you tap on the wall, they’ll tap back,” he said.
People often call thinking they have “a small animal” in the wall, but it’s ants, Stewart said.
'Every community has this issue'
He said older homes and mature neighbourhoods are most affected.
Stephen Taylor with Target Pest Control in Halifax says ants are taking over some neighbourhoods.
"We're seeing repeat neighbours now; where before you'd do so many homes on a street, now you're doing much more," he says. "And I'm actually saying, ‘Oh, we were at that house the other day and now we're at this one.'"
There are so many this year that Taylor says he’s on the go from 6 a.m. until night.
“Every community has this issue. It’s not a local issue,” Stewart said in Windsor. “If you’ve got older trees, older fence lines, older decks, you’re going to have this problem.”
The federal government has identification and treatment tips online.
According to that information, carpenter ants get into houses by several ways:
- Holes in foundations
- Heating ducts and air-conditioners
- Power or telephone cables
- Wooden structures attached to houses
- Firewood brought into the house
Ottawa says to find carpenter ants:
- Completely inspect areas of high moisture, wood in contact with the soil, areas where ventilation is poor, and exposed structural lumber.
- Look for a high concentration of ants in a particular area like under the kitchen sink.
- Pay attention to foraging ants and the patterns of their movement.
- Notice if there are swarms of winged ants trying to escape to the outdoors, usually in the spring.
- Look for piles of sawdust-like borings and slit-like openings in woodwork.
- Listen for the sound of an active colony, which will create a dry rustling noise that can be heard best at night during high ant activity and quiet time in the house. Use a wine glass or stethoscope to listen to the walls.