Many people feel that ants are harmless. Many types do not bite, and though they can be a nuisance when you're having a picnic, who do they really harm? Any home inspector would surely tell you that while most ants will not physically harm you, they can cost you a lot of money. Carpenter ants can cause massive amounts of damage to homes, with infestations being difficult to handle.
The Basics of Ant Behavior
Ants use the caste system, and are quite social. It is the job of the worker ants to gather food. Males will mate with the queen, dying after mating is complete. The queen then shed her wings and lay her eggs. The eggs hatch into larvae which turns into pupae. After only a few weeks adult ant emerge and immediately go to work.
The Difference Between Ants and Termites
Winged ants closely resemble termites. A qualified home inspector will be able to tell the difference between the two. In order to distinguish between the two, consider the following characteristics:
- The body of an ant is constricted, while that of the termite is not
- In the termite, both the front and back wings are basically the same size. In ants, they are smaller and larger. Wings cannot always be used as an indicator, as each of the two species will lose them at some point
- The antennae of the ant is elbowed, while that of the termite is straight
- Both will construct nests in wood that is moist. The nest of the ant tends to be smoother and will not contain the mud structures commonly associated with termites. Ants cause damage to wood by tunneling through. The damage caused by ants tends to be much less severe than that caused by termites
The carpenter ant will create a nest in either dry or wet wood, but much prefer wood that is moist. Nests are often found in wood that has been subjected to leaking water, such as underneath a sink. They may also create nests in attics spaces where the roof has leaked, wood around poorly sealed windows, behind a leaking dishwasher, and more. External damage will likely not exist, so it will be necessary to break into the wood to expose what lies underneath. Tapping the wood and listing for a hollow sound is another way to locate nests.
Other methods that a home inspector may used to detect an ant infestation include:
- Look for mounds of dirt near the entrance to garages (or even inside the garage), around the perimeter of the home, against planters, etc.
- Looking for any ant trails. These trails can be present in any number of locations throughout the home
- Looking for single ants that have ventured away from the trail of ants
- Closely examining any holes or cracks. These could be in the walls, foundation, etc. These provide easy access into the home
- Noting any frass deposits. This is the sawdust that is produced when the ants carve away at wood
- Listening for noise, such as a rustling sound. When gathered in numbers, a perceptible noise may be produced
- Search of the exterior of the home to see where ants are gathering near the home
Homeowners do play a role in preventing ant infestations. Food, especially anything that contains sugar, should be stored in a closed container. Take out the trash each day to eliminate any possible food source. Should you notice any cracks in the foundation, seal them as soon as possible. By taking a few preventative measures, there is a great chance that a home inspection will not reveal an ant problem.