Living with Carpenter Ants

By , May 27, 2010

As I sit at the table working on the computer, a very slight noise attracts my attention. A minute ticking I hear in the walls could  be the cabin logs warming in the sun, but it might also be something else. Along with the warmer weather, we accept a certain reality here on the peninsula: carpenter ants.

Most of the soil on our peninsula is actually organic, mostly wood. As such, it’s prime habitat for carpenter ants. Thriving ant nests surround the cabin. The original owners replaced most of the front wall after it became soaked with sea spray, and infested with ants. The remaining logs have their share of tunnels. Each summer, the ants try to move back in, and we wage a quiet war to ensure that they don’t.

Our methods are simple. We rely on diatomaceous earth. This substance, comprised of sharp, nearly microscopic shards, scratches the exoskeletons of ants, fleas, and other bugs. The scratches allow the animal’s body fluids to evaporate, killing them.

We look for ant access trails outside the cabin, and sprinkle a perimeter around the area that they must cross to enter. We look for trackways in the house and do the same thing. We also keep an old dishwashing liquid bottle filled with it. If we see an ant, we puff the diatomaceous earth on it, then allow it to go its way. With luck, the ones that get dusted will return to their fellows to seek help in cleaning. Any attempt to clean it off will spread it to others.

There are other similar methods that help control ants, but this one works best because it’s low key and nontoxic. We do try not to breathe the dust ourselves, but it’s not poison.

One thing we don’t worry about is piling firewood next to the house. Many sources recommend avoiding this because of ants, but others point out that the ants don’t eat wood, they tunnel in it. A piece of firewood makes a poor home, and is unlikely to become infested with ants. A stack might become infested, but the wood gets used before long.

We’d rather not have ants around the cabin; with this much wood, it’s hard not to worry that they might get the upper hand. However, we’ve done pretty well living with them so far. They’re like mosquitoes: they try to survive, as do we. We can’t get rid of them, and they can’t beat us. Each side keeps trying, and life goes on.

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