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Carpenter Ant Frass & Debris: What Does It Look Like?

Carpenter ants are one of the most common insect pests in the United States. 

They are known for the carpenter ant frass and debris they create when digging out tunnels in wood. They don’t eat the wood, but simply dig out the room inside wooden structures and dump it outside.

Carpenter ants will create so-called “dump piles” where they discard this excess material from their excavation efforts. 

5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants x
5 Things You Didn't Know About Ants

Read more about carpenter ant frass and debris and what it looks like in this article.

Carpenter Ant Frass

Carpenter ant frass is the leftovers from carpenter ant excavation efforts. The frass (or debris) is wood particles that ants drop underneath their nest. 

Carpenter ants will chop up, or chew through, wood with their mandibles. They don’t eat it but discard it in their dump pile.

ant crawling on a wood leaving ant frass

What Does Carpenter Ant Frass Look Like?

Carpenter ants produce carpenter ant frass as a byproduct of their nesting activities. Frass is mostly made from the excavation of the nest. This looks like sawdust.

Velvety tree ants also nest in trees. You can tell the difference between wood-infesting ants by their frass. Carpenter ants produce rougher sawdust, while velvety tree ants produce finer ground sawdust.

Many carpenter ants create underground nests which are made from wood pulp, soil particles, and partially digested vegetation. In some cases, carpenters will make their nest in the nooks and crannies found in homes.

This carpenter ant frass can include things like dirt, debris, and pieces as well as carpenter ants themselves.

Why Do Carpenter Ants Produce Frass?

Ants produce frass because they nest in trees or wooden structures [1]. Since they don’t eat wood, they leave a byproduct from their efforts: frass.

Velvety Tree Ant

What’s a Carpenter Ant “Dump Pile”?

A carpenter ants’ dump pile is a small mound of debris or other leftovers from the nest. Carpenter ant dump piles will be located near carpenter ant nests, often directly beneath them.

They simply push all of their debris out of the entrance to the colony, to make sure their nest isn’t contaminated.

Ants like to live in a clean environment, which is why they clean out regularly.

A dump pile can include different materials such as frass from excavating for their nest (sawdust-looking particles), other insect or ant body parts, droppings, and soil/gravel particles.

What’s in a Carpenter Ant Dump File?

A carpenter ant dump is a place where the carpenter ants will deposit their waste and debris. 

The dump pile will contain:

  • Wooden frass
  • Leftover food (like insect carcasses)
  • Dead ants
  • Dead brood
  • Their droppings
  • Soil or dirt from the nest
  • Other kinds of waste

Use the Dump Pile to Locate the Nest

A carpenter ant dump pile can actually help you locate the carpenter ant nest. 

Ants are very effective workers, so they won’t spend much time getting rid of their waste. Instead of taking it far away from the nest, they’ll simply drop it right outside.

Hence, if you find a dump pile made by carpenter ants, simply look up, and you should be able to find an entrance to their nest.

ant frass

Why Do Carpenter Ants Create Frass?

Carpenter ants create carpenter ant frass in order to build their nests [2]. While they don’t need the actual frass, they need to produce it in order to make room inside trees.

Carpenter ants create galleries inside trees to lay eggs, nest, and stay safe from harsh environmental conditions. To create room, they will dig through the wood with their mandibles.

This creates frass, or sawdust, much like when we cut up wood.

rotten tree infested by ants

Difference Between Termite Frass and Carpenter Ant Frass

Carpenter ants are known to leave frass behind. If you find frass in your home, there’s a good chance you’ve got a carpenter ant infestation in your home. 

While termites also like to dig through wood, they also eat it as they go. They do create frass as well, but their debris is different from that produced by ants.

Carpenter ant frass is actual wood that they kick out of the nest to make room for themselves. Termites eat wood that they dig through – which means, their frass is mostly droppings, and not “sawdust”.

Termite frass looks like hard pellets that may vary in color, from tan to dark brown.

termites colony

It’s important to identify whether you’ve got termites or ants in your home, to better figure out the proper treatment.

What Does Termite Frass Look Like?

Termite frass looks like little hard pellets, ranging in color from tan to dark brown. This frass is a combination of droppings and leftover wood not eaten by the termites.

The reason why termites produce frass that looks different from ants is that termites eat wood. They feed on the cellulose found in wood – this is the main part of their diet.

Ants don’t eat wood. They like to eat sugary substances, such as nectar, honeydew, granulated sugar, syrup, and so on. Carpenter ants do use their mandibles to chew through their wood, but they don’t eat and digest it.

termite sawdust

Signs of a Carpenter Ant Infestation

When carpenter ants invade your home, there are 4 signs that you may notice. If you see any of these, your should take action:

  1. The first sign of carpenter ants is when they’re scouting for food in your home. They’ll make sure there are food sources nearby, before moving in.
  2. When carpenter ants decide to nest in your home, they’ll create small piles of carpenter frass/sawdust while excavating.
  3. If you have an established carpenter ant nest in your home, you’ll at some point see flying ants near your windows, trying to get out. These are reproductive ants, ready to mate.
  4. The last sign, at the most serious, is when you notice structural damage to wooden structures. At this point, you need to call an exterminator.

When you see the first signs of carpenter ants, you may be able to take care of the problem yourself. But as the carpenter ant nest grows bigger, and the issue gets more and more out of hand, it’ll get more difficult to handle.

Hence, if you start noticing a large number of ants in your home, or structural damage caused by carpenter ants, you should contact an exterminator.

Learn more: How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants

exterminator

Conclusion

Carpenter ants produce frass (a kind of sawdust) when they dig tunnels and galleries in wood. They kick this out of their nest to make room. This frass, along with other wastes, will be placed in a dump pile.

If you find a dump pile, you can use it to locate the carpenter ant nest.

These little brown ants will dump all of their waste right outside their colony, so you can simply look up from the dump pile – and there you have the nest.

Termites also produce frass, but this is different from carpenter ants’ leftovers. Termites eat wood, and their frass is their droppings – hard pellets, and not sawdust.

About Teodoro Pittman

Teodoro is a nature and animal lover. He specifically focuses on insects, such as ants, bees, and the like. In his free time, he takes care of his own ant farm, where he analyzes their behavior. Teodoro has spent the last 7 years studying the intricate behavior of these small creatures.