Carpenter ant

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Carpenter ant
Carpenter ant Tanzania crop.jpg
Camponotus sp. (worker)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Subfamily: Formicinae
Tribe: Camponotini
Genus: Camponotus
Mayr, 1861
Type species
Formica ligniperda
Latreille, 1802
> 1,000 species

Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp.) are large (0.3 to 1.0 in or 0.76 to 2.54 cm) ants indigenous to many forested parts of the world.[1] They build nests inside wood consisting of galleries chewed out with their mandibles, preferably in dead, damp wood. They do not consume the wood, however, unlike termites.[2] Sometimes, carpenter ants hollow out sections of trees. They also commonly infest wooden buildings and structures, and are a widespread nuisance and major cause of structural damage.[3] One of the most familiar species associated with human habitation in the United States is the black carpenter ant (Camponotus pennsylvanicus). The genus includes over 1000 species.[4]


All ants in this genus, and some related genera, possess an obligate bacterial endosymbiont called Blochmannia.[5] This bacterium has a small genome, and retains genes to biosynthesize essential amino acids and other nutrients. This suggests the bacterium plays a role in ant nutrition. Many Camponotus species are also infected with Wolbachia, another endosymbiont that is widespread across insect groups.[citation needed]


Carpenter ant cleaning antennae

Carpenter ant species reside both outdoors and indoors in moist, decaying, or hollow wood, most commonly in forest environments. They cut "galleries" into the wood grain to provide passageways for movement from section to section of the nest. Certain parts of a house, such as around and under windows, roof eaves, decks and porches, are more likely to be infested by carpenter ants because these areas are most vulnerable to moisture.[citation needed]

Carpenter ants have been known to construct extensive underground tunneling systems. These systems often lead to and end at some food source – often aphid colonies, where the ants extract and feed on honeydew. These tunneling systems also often exist in trees. The colonies typically include a central "parent" colony surrounded and supplemented by smaller satellite colonies.[6]


A major worker of Camponotus sp.

Carpenter ants are foragers that typically eat parts of other dead insects or substances derived from other insects. Common foods for them include insect parts, "honey dew" produced by aphids, or some secretions from plants. Carpenter ants can increase the survivability of aphids when they attend to them. They attend to any aphid species, but can also express preference for specific ones.[citation needed]

Most species of carpenter ants forage at night. When foraging, they usually collect and consume dead insects. Some species less commonly collect live insects. When they discover a dead insect, workers surround it and extract its bodily fluids to be carried back to the nest. The remaining chitin-based shell is left behind. Occasionally, the ants bring the chitinous head of the insect back to the nest, where they also extract its inner tissue.[7] The ants can forage individually or in small or large groups, though they often opt to do so individually. Different colonies in close proximity may have overlapping foraging regions, though they typically do not assist each other in foraging. Their main food sources normally include proteins and carbohydrates.[8]

When workers find food sources, they communicate this information to the rest of the nest. They use biochemical pheromones to mark the shortest path that can be taken from the nest to the source. When a sizable number of workers follows this trail, the strength of the cue increases and a foraging trail is established. This ends when the food source is depleted. Foraging trails can either be under or above ground.[9]

Although carpenter ants do not tend to be extremely aggressive, they have developed mechanisms to maximize their provision from a food source when that same food source is visited by a competing organism. This is accomplished in different ways. Sometimes they colonize an area near a relatively static food supply. More often, they develop a systemic way to visit the food source with alternating trips by different individual ants or groups. This allows them to decrease the gains of intruders because the intruders tend to visit in a scattered, random, and unorganized manner. The ants, however, visit the sources systematically such that they lower the mean standing crop. They tend to visit more resource-dense food areas in an attempt to minimize resource availability for others. That is, the more systematic the foraging behavior of the ants, the more random that of its competitors.[citation needed]

Contrary to popular belief, carpenter ants do not actually eat wood because they are unable to digest cellulose. They only create tunnels and nests within it.[10]

Behavior and ecology[edit]


Carpenter ants work to build the nests that house eggs in environments with high humidity due to their sensitivity to environmental humidity. These nests are called primary nests. Satellite nests are constructed once the primary nest is established and has begun to mature. Residents of satellite nests include older larvae, pupae, and some winged individuals. Only eggs, the newly hatched larvae, workers, and the queen reside in the primary nests. Since satellite nests do not have environmentally sensitive eggs, the ants can construct them in rather diverse locations that can actually be relatively dry.[11]

Nuptial flight[edit]

When conditions are warm and humid, winged males and females participate in a nuptial flight. They emerge from their satellite nests and females mate with a number of males while in flight. The males die after mating. These newly fertilized queens discard their wings and search for new areas to establish primary nests. The queens build new nests and deposit around 20 eggs, nurturing them as they grow until worker ants emerge. The worker ants eventually assist her in caring for the brood as she lays more eggs. Again, satellite nests will be established and the process will repeat itself.[11]


Relatedness is the probability that a gene in one individual is an identical copy, by descent, of a gene in another individual. It is essentially a measure of how closely related two individuals are with respect to a gene. It is quantified by the coefficient of relatedness, which is a number between zero and one. The larger the value, the more two individuals are "related". Carpenter ants are social hymenopteran insects. This means the relatedness between offspring and parents is disproportionate. Females are more closely related to their sisters than they are to their offspring. Between full sisters, the coefficient of relatedness is r > 0.75 (due to their haplodiploid genetic system).[12] Between parent and offspring, the coefficient of relatedness is r = 0.5, because, given the event in meiosis, a certain gene has a 50% chance of being passed on to the offspring. The level of relatedness is an important dictator of individual interactions.[citation needed]

Kin recognition[edit]

According to Hamilton's rule for relatedness, for relative-specific interactions to occur, such as kin altruism, a high level of relatedness is necessary between two individuals. Carpenter ants, like many social insect species, have mechanisms by which individuals determine whether others are nestmates or not. They are useful because they explain the presence or absence of altruistic behavior between individuals. They also act as evolutionary strategies to help prevent incest and promote kin selection.[13] Social carpenter ants recognize their kin in many ways. These methods of recognition are largely chemical in nature, and include environmental odors, pheromones, "transferable labels", and labels from the queen that are distributed to and among nest members.[14] Because they have a chemical basis for emission and recognition, odors are useful because many ants can detect such changes in their environment through their antennae.[15] This allows acceptance of nestmates and rejection of non-nestmates.[citation needed]

The actual process of recognition for carpenter ants requires two events. First, a cue must be present on a "donor animal". These cues are called "labels". Next, the receiving animal must be able to recognize and process the cue. In order for an individual carpenter ant to be recognized as a nestmate, it must, as an adult, go through specific interactions with older members of the nest.[14] This process is also necessary in order for the ant to recognize and distinguish other individuals. If these interactions do not occur in the beginning of adult life, the ant will be unable to be distinguished as a nestmate and unable to distinguish nestmates.[16]

Kin altruism[edit]

Recognition allows for the presence of kin-specific interactions, like kin altruism. Altruistic individuals increase other individuals' fitness at the expense of their own fitness. Carpenter ants perform altruistic actions toward their nestmates so that their shared genes are propagated more readily or more often. In many social insect species like these ants, many worker animals are sterile and do not have the ability to reproduce. As a result, they forego reproduction to donate energy and help the fertile individuals reproduce.[citation needed]


As in most other social insect species, individual interaction is heavily influenced by the queen. The queen can influence individuals with odors called pheromones, which can have different effects. Some pheromones have been known to calm workers, while others have been known to excite them. Pheromonal cues from ovipositing queens have a stronger effect on worker ants than those of virgin queens.[17]

Social immunity[edit]

In many social insect species, social behavior can increase the disease resistance of animals. This phenomenon, called social immunization, exists in carpenter ants. It is mediated through the feeding of other individuals by regurgitation. The regurgitate can have antimicrobial activity, which would be spread amongst members of the colony. Some proteases with antimicrobial activity have been found to exist in regurgitated material. Communal sharing of immune response capability is likely to play a large role in colonial maintenance during highly pathogenic periods.[18]


Polygyny is often associated with many social insect species, and is usually characterized by limited mating flights, small queen size, and other characteristics. However, carpenter ants have "extensive" mating flights and relatively large queens, distinguishing them from polygynous species. Carpenter ants are described as oligogynous because they have a number of fertile queens which are intolerant of each other and must therefore spread to different areas of the nest. Some aggressive interactions have been known to take place between queens, but not necessarily through workers. Queens become aggressive mainly to other queens if they trespass on a marked territory. Queens in a given colony can work together in brood care[6] and the workers tend to experience higher rates of survival in colonies with multiple queens. Some researchers still subscribe to the notion that carpenter ant colonies are only monogynous.[19]

Carpenter ants as pests[edit]

Carpenter ants can damage wood used in the construction of buildings. They can leave behind a sawdust-like material called frass that provides clues to their nesting location. Carpenter ant galleries are smooth and very different from termite-damaged areas, which have mud packed into the hollowed-out areas.[20] Carpenter ants can be identified by the general presence of one upward protruding node, looking like a spike, at the "waist" attachment between the thorax and abdomen (petiole).[citation needed]

Control involves application of insecticides in various forms including dusts and liquids. The dusts are injected directly into galleries and voids where the carpenter ants are living. The liquids are applied in areas where foraging ants are likely to pick the material up and spread the poison to the colony upon returning.[citation needed]

Exploding ants[edit]

In at least nine Southeast Asian species of the Cylindricus complex, including Camponotus saundersi, workers feature greatly enlarged mandibular glands that run the entire length of the ant's body. They can release their contents suicidally by performing autothysis, thereby rupturing the ant's body and spraying toxic substance from the head, which gives these species the common name "exploding ants."[21][22][23] The enlarged mandibular gland, which is many times the size of that of a normal ant, produces a glue. The glue bursts out and entangles and immobilizes all nearby victims.[24][25]

The termite species Globitermes sulphureus has a similar defensive system.[26]

Selected species[edit]

C. pennsylvanicus (winged male)
C. crispulus queen
Wood damage by C. herculeanus
See List of Camponotus species for a complete listing of species and subspecies.


  1. ^ Cranshaw, Whitney; Richard Redak (2013). Bugs Rule!: An Introduction to the World of Insects. Princeton Univ. Press. p. 329. ISBN 140084892X. 
  2. ^
  3. ^ Strauss, Levi (January 2005). "Carpenter Ant Fact Sheet". Spokane County Extension. Washington State Univ., Spokane, WA. Retrieved February 19, 2014. 
  4. ^ Feldhaar, H., et al. (2007). Nutritional upgrading for omnivorous carpenter ants by the endosymbiont Blochmannia. BMC Biology 5(1), 48.
  5. ^ Feldhaar, Heike; Straka, Josef; Krischke, Markus; Berthold, Kristina; Stoll, Sascha; Mueller, Martin J; Gross, Roy (2007). "Nutritional upgrading for omnivorous carpenter ants by the endosymbiont Blochmannia". BMC Biology 5 (1): 48. doi:10.1186/1741-7007-5-48. PMC 2206011. 
  6. ^ a b Colony Size and Polygyny in Carpenter Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) Roger D. Akre, Laurel D. Hansen and Elizabeth A. Myhre Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society , Vol. 67, No. 1 (Jan., 1994), pp. 1-9
  7. ^ Pricer, John. The Life History of the Carpenter Ant. Biological Bulletin , Vol. 14, No. 3 (Feb., 1908), pp. 177-218
  8. ^ Yamamoto, Marcela, and Kleber Del-Claro. "Natural History and Foraging Behavior of the Carpenter Ant Camponotus Sericeiventris Guérin, 1838 (Formicinae, Campotonini) in the Brazilian Tropical Savanna." Acta Ethologica 11.2 (2008): 55-65. Print.
  9. ^ Dreisig, H. "Defense by Exploitation in the Florida Carpenter Ant, Camponotus Floridanus , at an Extrafloral Nectar Resource." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 47.4 (2000): 274-79. Print.
  10. ^ Hahn, Jeff. "Carpenter Ants." : Insects : University of Minnesota Extension. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.
  11. ^ a b Pararas — Carayannis, Carolyn. "Carpenter Ants." Colony Behaviors of Carpenter Ants. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 October 2013.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b Carlin, Norman F.; Schwartz, Peter H. (July 1989). "Pre-imaginal experience and nestmate brood recognition in the carpenter ant, Camponotus floridanus". Animal Behaviour 38 (1): 89–95. doi:10.1016/S0003-3472(89)80068-5. 
  15. ^ CARLIN, N. F.; HOLLDOBLER, B. (2 December 1983). "Nestmate and Kin Recognition in Interspecific Mixed Colonies of Ants". Science 222 (4627): 1027–1029. doi:10.1126/science.222.4627.1027. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ H. G. Fowler and R. B. Roberts Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society , Vol. 55, No. 3 (Jul., 1982), pp. 568-570
  18. ^ Hamilton, Casey. "Trophallaxis and Prophylaxis: Social Immunity in the Carpenter Ant Camponotus Pennsylvanicus." Biology Letters 7.1 (2011): 89-92. Print.
  19. ^ Gadau, Jürgen, Pia J. Gertsch, Jürgen Heinze, Pekka Pamilo, and Bert Hölldobler. "Oligogyny by Unrelated Queens in the Carpenter Ant, Camponotus Ligniperdus." Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 44.1 (1998): 23-33. Print.
  20. ^ Catseye Pest Control
  21. ^ Jones, T.H.; Clark, D.A.; Edwards, A.A.; Davidson, D.W.; Spande, T.F. and Snelling, Roy R. (2004): "The Chemistry of Exploding Ants, Camponotus spp. (Cylindricus complex)". Journal of Chemical Ecology 30(8): 1479–1492. doi:10.1023/B:JOEC.0000042063.01424.28
  22. ^ Emery, Carlo (1889). Viaggio di Leonardo Fea in Birmania e regioni vicine. XX. Formiche di Birmania e del Tenasserim raccolte da Leonardo Fea (1885–87).  Annali del Museo Civico di Storia Naturale Giacomo Doria (Genova) 2 7(27): 485–520. [PDF]
  23. ^ "Utahn enters world of exploding ants". Deseret News. September 11, 2002.  University of Utah graduate student Steve Cook explained "They've been called kamikaze ants by other researchers because they tend to explode or self-destruct when they're attacked or harassed in any way."
  24. ^ Vittachi, Nury (June 6, 2008). "The Malaysian ant teaches us all how to go out with a bang". Daily Star (Dhaka). 
  25. ^ Ridley, Mark (1995). Animal Behaviour (Second ed.). Blackwell Publishing. p. 3. ISBN 0-86542-390-3. Retrieved 2009-09-26. 
  26. ^ Robert S. Anderson, Richard Beatty, Stuart Church (January 2003). Insects and Spiders of the World 9. p. 543. ISBN 978-0-7614-7334-3. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Mayr, Gustav (1861): Die europäischen Formiciden. Vienna. PDF—original description of p. 35
  • McArthur, Archie J (2007): A Key to Camponotus Mayr of Australia. In: Snelling, R.R., B.L. Fisher and P.S. Ward (eds). Advances in ant systematics (Hymenoptera: Formicidae): homage to E.O. Wilson – 50 years of contributions. Memoirs of the American Entomological Institute 80. PDF—91 species, 10 subspecies

External links[edit]