Colossal Carpenter Ants

A great shot of a queen carpenter ant and some workers by @wolfgang_hasselmann on Unsplash. And yes – she has wings. Is there anything ants can’t do?

First of all, happy sixth night of Hanukkah! I hope everyone celebrating is having a wonderful holiday, and I appreciate you taking the time to read about ants during the festivities.

Speaking of holidays, Jesus was a carpenter, so I thought, “why not do a carpenter ant post in December?” At least these guys fit the Christmas theme a bit better than the June bugs did – I’ll admit that one was kind of a stretch.

I still want my June bug ornament though. But on to ants:

I’ve always loved ants. They’ve been some of my favorite insects for as long as I can remember. Not fire ants, of course, but most other ants I’ve met have been pretty cool.  My parents aren’t as enthusiastic about ants as I am, though, which is understandable but probably created some frustration when I was younger. For example, my house has had annual sugar ant infestations for as long as I can remember. After the first few times Mom sprayed the ants with Windex when I pointed them out to her, I learned to keep my mouth shut and let some ants live in my bathroom for a lot longer than my parents would have liked.

While I can appreciate every species (even fire ants, I guess), carpenter ants are my favorites. When I was little, I used to pick them up a lot and let them crawl around on my hands. A carpenter ant did bite my finger once, which was unpleasant, but I consider him an exception – most carpenter ants I’ve come across have been pretty friendly. Their large size makes carpenter ants interesting to watch, too, as you can see their features better and even make out their little eyes if you look closely at their faces. Adorable!

Unsurprisingly due to their similar names, carpenter ants and carpenter bees have a lot in common. Both insects do not actually eat the wood they bore into, with carpenter bees preferring flower nectar for food and carpenter ants hunting or scavenging insects (or any meaty or sugary sustenance they happen to find in your house). Additionally, the homes of both carpenter bees and carpenter ants are referred to as galleries. However, while carpenter bees use dry wood to build their galleries in, carpenter ants are less picky and will use wood that is moist or even rotting. My brother and I learned this the hard way a couple weeks ago when we uncovered a rotting wood structure in our backyard and accidentally disrupted the goings-on of a large carpenter ant colony. This is actually super helpful in their natural forest environment, as carpenter ant colonies can help decompose rotting logs. It’s not so helpful in yard decorations, though, so my mom proceeded to blast that colony with a garden hose so we could move the wood without getting covered in ants. Sorry fellas; next time, try the bottom logs in the firewood pile.

We might not have destroyed those ants’ home altogether, however, because carpenter ant colonies are actually made up of several different sites called parent nests and satellite nests. The parent nest (which my mother cruelly flooded) is where the queen lives with her eggs and the younger larvae, while the satellite nests house some older larvae and pupae and are also home to the worker ants. Worker ants spend a lot of time traveling back and forth between their nest and the parent nest to deliver food, transport larvae and take care of basic housekeeping. If you find carpenter ants in your home, you’ve probably stumbled across a satellite nest that reports back to a parent nest in your yard – unless it’s winter, then you might have the queen and her whole colony to deal with.

Speaking of carpenter ant queens – they’re downright amazing. Your average worker ant is already a force to be reckoned with, able to lift up to 50 times its body weight, but the queen is a whole other beast. Not only are queen ants much larger in size than their workers and are responsible for building their colonies up from nothing, but until they take on those royal duties, they can fly.

Okay, so there are winged ants in the colonies of basically every ant species you’ll find if you check in at the right time of year, but big ol’ carpenter ants flying around is something I’m sad I haven’t seen yet. Flying ants are called swarmers, and their job is to mate with other ants so they can fly off and establish their own colonies. Once they’ve mated and decided on a site for their new home, the young queens’ wings fall off and they get down to business carving out their own galleries and tending to their first brood of eggs. Being royalty is a lot of work for an insect that’s barely a couple centimeters long.

Royalty, carpentry – I wonder if carpenter ants are Jesus’ favorite, too? I’m just kidding, Jesus loves all the ants equally – even fire ants, for some reason. Just another part of how awesome He is, loving the unlovable.

Okay, I’m done. No more hating on fire ants – at least until after Christmas. Everyone deserves a break around the holidays, even mean little insects.

One Comment on “Colossal Carpenter Ants

  1. Pingback: Please Don’t Mess with Bullet Ants – The ArthroBlogger

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