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More than six hundred ant species inhabit the United States, some of which are non-native species that have established an invasive habitat in the country. While the habitat distribution of potentially dangerous ant species is largely limited to southern regions in the US, residents of the northeastern states often struggle with economically significant ant species. Some of these ant pests, like European fire ants, inflict damage to lawn grass, while others, like red and black carpenter ants, infest structural lumber within homes. Black carpenter ants infest structural wood far more often than red carpenter ants, but each species can be both a nuisance and a source of structural wood damage within and around homes.

Seventy five percent of all carpenter ant nests can be found in dead trees, stumps and logs, and nuisance infestations are more common than structural infestations. Unlike wood-devouring termites, carpenter ants infest wood solely for nesting purposes. Carpenter ant workers use their strong mouthparts to excavate nesting tunnels within structural lumber sources during the nighttime hours. These nesting tunnels are known as “galleries,” and nocturnal workers sometimes emerge within homes in order to seek out sweet-tasting human food sources. Since carpenter ant activity occurs at night when most people are sleeping, infestations can last for long periods of time before being detected. Surprisingly, the sound of worker carpenter ants chewing away at structural lumber is often audible to people living within infested homes.

When carpenter ants are active at night, workers can be heard traveling through galleries and using their mouthparts to plow tunnels within structural lumber. In fact, these sounds are loud enough to be heard as far as 3 meters away from an infested wood source. Residents of infested homes have described these noises as sounding like crinkling cellophane, and the clicking sounds made by carpenter ant jaws can also be audible within infested homes. Pest control professionals and inspectors can detect carpenter ant infestations within homes by using a slender pen-shaped tool to tap on exposed structural lumber components. If this test produces a hollow sound, then the lumber has already been hollowed out by wood-infesting insect pests, and if infested wood is tapped, carpenter ant workers will begin to bang their heads against the walls of their gallery in an effort to alert colony members of a disturbance. The tap test can be performed by any resident who suspects that a structural carpenter ant infestation has become established within their home.

Do you believe that you may have heard the sounds produced by active carpenter ant workers tunneling through structural lumber?