My principle of not wanting to kill the wildlife was challenged earlier in the season when I found a winged carpenter ant on the new dock wood. Knowing that they are considered the most destructive common insect pest in Canada I was not happy to see it inspecting the wood of our new dock. However, carpenter ants are also one of the most valuable insects we have on earth. They chew up tons of wood and turn it into fine sawdust that provides compost for new growth when it composts.
Canada has over 100 species of ants and the black carpenter ant is the largest in size. They are ¼ to ½ inch in length and only have wings when they are reproductive. The wings are used for mating and dispersal flights. Once they have mated the male dies within two weeks and the female drops to the ground, drop her wings and eats them to maintain the protein used to make her wings. The female then forms an underground colony where only females are produced until the next spring.
An ant colony can have a population reaching hundreds of thousands, so this little winged ant has the potential to create quite a problem for us if it takes up residence near our new dock! The sight of ants with wings can indicate the nearby presence of a mature colony, which is probably also a large colony! However, I did only see the one and not a swarm of them, so it was more likely a female looking for a nesting site. Hopefully it didn’t like the activity around the dock and went off into the woods to fine a different home.
Whilst I was tempted to eliminate this potential threat, I refrained, as carpenter ants do not normally mine sound wood. They usually choose a soft wood like pine or moist rotting wood. We have so much other wood that it should prefer, so I let it be. The old dock was actually built from pine and was rotten, yet there was no obvious issue with carpenter ants when we removed it, so hopefully that will be the case with our new dock too.
However, I did find another carpenter ant on the dock a few weeks later without wings. Should I be worried? It was probably looking for food and not a new nest. Carpenter ants will travel up to 100 meters in search of food and most foraging is done in the evenings between sunset and midnight. This one was up early a little before sunset and wasn’t going to find much food on the dock. They eat protein and sugar – living and dead insects, honey dew and anything we humans leave around like honey, jam and fruit. They will also eat meat.
I did find an ant nest under a log only about 50 feet from the dock. I moved the log and disturbed the ant nest. I could see the ants quickly trying to move the eggs to a safe place. I replaced the log and left them be, in a place where I am happy for them to stay!