How to Identify Carpenter Ants

Carpenter ants have earned their name from their amazing ability to whittle down wood. Often homeowners with an infestation will think that they have termites when it's actually carpenter ants. Identifying them can be difficult as there are over 18 species in the United States that differ in color and size [source: Orkin]. Read the tips listed below and learn about how to identify carpenter ants.

  • Color and size Carpenter ants come in a wide range of colors, including black, red, brown, yellow and orange. The most common species in the United States is a winged variety with a reddish-brown head and thorax and a black body and abdomen. Carpenter ants generally range in size from 4/50 to 4/5 inch (2 to 20 millimeters) [source: Orkin], although some species can grow as large as a full inch (2.5 centimeters) long.
  • Type of damage If you observe damage to the foundation of your home, it's important to identify whether you have a carpenter ant or termite infestation. Start by looking at the damage to your property. Carpenter ants don't eat wood. Rather, they burrow through it to make tunnels. If you notice smooth tunnels with no sawdust or wood debris, it's most likely that you have carpenter ants.
  • Shape You can also distinguish between carpenter ants and termites by observing their bodies. Carpenter ants have a narrow waist with a rounded behind while termites have a broad body. The ants' antennae are elbowed while the termites' antennae are straight. Finally, if the back wings on the insect are shorter than the front wings, you are mostly looking at a carpenter ant. Termites have front and back wings of equal size [source: Hahn, Cannon, Ascerno].