Ants don’t eat wood. However, there are some ant species like carpenter ants, that may destroy wood as they chew through it to build their nests. So while they don’t necessarily consume wood for nutrition, they can still do considerable damage.
In this article we’ll discuss why and how some ants destroy wood, which species are known to damage wood, and lastly, how to prevent or get rid of ants in wood.
Why And How Some Ants Destroy Wood
Depending on the species, ants may nest in either the soil or wood. Ants of the latter are called wood-nesting ants which usually nest in dead or rotting wood that contains a good amount of moisture. As mentioned, these ants don’t actually eat wood, but may damage it as they build their nests.
When these ants find suitable wood, they construct their nests through excavation. Using their strong mandibles and teeth, they chew through wood to build galleries which they’ll use for shelter and a storage for food and their brood.
As these ants tunnel along, they make sure to keep clean and remove dead insects, fragments of wood, and other debris from the excavation. This may result in a build up of cone-shaped piles of trash called frass outside nest openings or unused nest chambers.
Such frass is a key differentiator between ant and termite infestation. While ants produce accumulations of it from excavation, termites don’t and will instead leave fecal pellets from consumed and digested wood.
Wood Infesting Ants
Not all ants nest in wood. In fact, most ant species actually nest in soil. As such, there are only a number of ants known to nest in and therefore, damage wood. These wood nesting or infesting ants are as follows:
Carpenter ants are the most notorious wood-infesting ants. These usually large ants which can be yellowish red, solid black, or a combination of black, red, or reddish orange in color are part of the globally distributed genus Camponotus, a genus represented by more than 1000 species living in a variety of habitats. While known for nesting in wood, they may also nest in the ground.
As far as wood goes, carpenter ants prefer to nest in moist wood which favor growth and development. As such, they are more likely to be found in wood dampened by water leaks including moist spaces under sinks, bathtubs, and even walls. That said, they’re very much capable of excavating hard wood as well.
Carpenter ant excavations result in clean and smooth galleries unlike that of termites which are often dirty and muddy. They make sure to eject sawdust-like shredded fragments of wood and other debris including dead insects through cracks or slits made through their excavation. This may sometimes result in an accumulation of frass outside nest openings, a good indicator that a carpenter ant nest is nearby.
They also may establish nests in different locations. These nests may either be the parent or satellite nests which vary in colony structure. Parent nests, when mature, contain the reproductive queen, her brood, and workers while satellite nests only contain workers, swarmers (virgin queens and drones), and older pupae or larvae.
Moisture ants refer to another group of wood-infesting ants. These ants from the genus Lasius, are small and have yellow to reddish-brown coloration. They’re commonly mistaken for carpenter ants due to their inclination to exploit and excavate damp wooden structures. Like the latter, they can do significant damage to wood if left unattended.
Unlike carpenter ants however, moisture ants are not capable of excavating dry wood but can only build their nests in rotten wood or those softened by moisture. Also, instead of creating smooth galleries, they create crumbly, carton-like galleries made of soil and their own secretions.
All in all, moisture ants are mostly non-destructive. Yes, they can most definitely be a nuisance given that they accelerate the decaying process of wood, but again they only target wood that’s already damaged or rotten. With that, their presence may ultimately indicate water problems such as leaks.
Velvety Tree Ants
Lastly we have the velvety tree ants of the Liometopum genus. These ants have brownish-black heads, yellowish-red thoraxes, and black abdomens covered with fine velvety hairs. Like moisture ants, they too are commonly mistaken for carpenter ants because they invade and nest in wood.
In fact, velvety tree ant infestations resemble those of carpenter ants. The only difference being that instead of sawdust-like frass, they produce frass with a finer, powder-like consistency.
How To Get Rid Of Ants In Wood
Wood infesting ants can be a serious threat to property and other wooden structures. Should infestations go unchecked, these ants may cause severe structural damage similar to termites. Therefore, it’s important to manage these infestations by applying the following:
Apart from ants, wood infesting insects include the ever notorious termites, carpenter bees and certain species of beetles. As such, the very first step in managing wood infestation is to determine the actual cause of the issue through thorough inspection.
Carefully check common infestation areas such as fences, door frames, window sills, wooden beams, roof edges, and other types of wood in and outside the property, and most especially wood near water sources or areas prone to moisture for signs of ants or frass. If present, then there’s a high chance of ant infestation. Otherwise, you may be dealing with other insects.
For treatment you may use insecticides such as baits. Ant baits are made of a mixture between toxic matter and food that’s attractive to ants. They do well for infestations in out-of-reach areas as the ants themselves would take the bait to their nests and eventually pass the toxin to the queen. That said, certain ants can be selective in the baits they accept and it’s possible for ants to neglect baits depending on food availability.
A more effective way would be to apply insecticides directly into the ant nest. For this you may use insecticide dust, aerosol, or foam and apply or inject any to both the interior and exterior perimeter of the nest. In some cases, you may need to drill holes into the wood for better penetration.
Finally, for large infestations consider calling for professional help.
As with many problems, prevention is better than cure, especially when it comes to wood infesting ants. Keep in mind that these ants typically target moist and already decaying wood and are rarely invasive when it comes to dry and hard wood. Therefore, their presence may not only indicate an infestation but also the fact that there may exist an underlying problem such as a leak or other types of water damage.
So first and foremost, check and correct moisture problems such as roof or plumbing leaks and drainage issues. Doing so should prevent any wooden structure from becoming damp and attractive to wood infesting ants.
Next, be sure to have clearance between soil and structural wood. Again, even the aforementioned wood nesting ants may also nest in soil. Having wood in contact with soil may facilitate easy nest immigration.
The same goes for tree limbs, branches and other types of vegetation in contact with the house. These limbs and branches may serve as bridges from wood infesting ant nests to other wooden structures. So stay on top of your gardening and trim those trees.
Lastly, be sure to remove any unnecessary wood such as logs, stumps, and other debris. Also, if you’re keeping wood of any kind, store them away from the property or other wooden structures.
Do Ants Eat Termites?
Ants are considered to be the primary predators of termites. In fact a number of ant species such as Matabele ants, conduct raids and other strategies to hunt and eat termites and their larvae.
They’re also natural competitors and often engage in fights. In these fights, any termites killed by ants eventually end up as food.
Summary: Do Ants Eat Wood?
Unlike termites, ants don’t eat wood for nutrition. They can however, still damage wood as they excavate and build their nests. Certain ants like carpenter ants, moisture ants, and velvety tree ants, target damp and rotting wood for their nests. When they build, they use their mandibles to dig through the wood and create galleries within. If left unchecked, these ants may cause severe structural damage.