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Carpenter Ants vs Black Ants: What’s the Difference?

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The main difference between carpenter ants and black ants is their appearance and behavior. Black ants have a shiny black exoskeleton, while carpenters have a brownish-black or reddish-brown exoskeleton. Carpenter ants also nest in wood.

Carpenter ants are one of the most common household pests in North America, and the same goes for black ants.

But what are the differences between these two types of ants? Read on to find out more.

The Difference Between Carpenter Ants and Black Ants

While carpenter ants and black ants both are annoying to deal with, there are quite a few differences that can help you tell them apart.

For one, the way they look is much different. Carpenter ants are generally larger (around 0.5”), with more standout features than the common black ant.

Their behavior also differentiates. Carpenters ants like to nest in wood, hence their name, where black ants are simpler ants, just looking for some soil to dig through.

Read more about different types of ants.

Carpenter ants

What Do Carpenter Ants Look Like?

Carpenter ants are medium-sized ants, typically about 0.5”. They are brown and red-ish, with a heart-shaped head and a smooth thorax. Their mandibles are bigger than the average ant’s since they use them for chewing through wood.

Carpenter ants are more likely to have wings, one set bigger than the other if it’s a reproductive type (virgin queen or drone).

carpenter ant crawling on wooden wall

Carpenter Ant Nesting & Habitat

Carpenter ants usually build their nests in decaying logs, stumps, and hollow trees [1]. They use their large mandibles to dig through the wood, creating galleries to lay eggs, protect them from harsh conditions, and grow the colony.

Carpenter ants usually won’t infest healthy trees, as the wood in these is too hard to chew through. If you see a carpenter ant infestation in a tree, the tree is probably already dying.

Carpenter ants will also nest in wooden structures in your home, especially if they’ve been exposed to moisture for a long time, making the wood easily chewable for the little brown ants.

A nest will contain between 3,000 and 100,000 ants.

You may also like: What to do about carpenter ants in trees

carpenter ants on wood

Carpenter Ants Diet

Carpenter ants like to eat sugary substances, such as honeydew, sugar, and syrup, but will also occasionally feast on other small insects such as termites.

Read more: What do carpenter ants eat?

Black ants

What Do Black Ants Look Like?

Black ants are black in color with an almost glossy/shiny look. They’re between 0.2” – 0.4” long, with the traditional two antennae and 6 legs. Their thorax will often be a little rugged.

black ant crawling on the wall

Black Ants Nesting & Habitat

Black ants typically nest outdoors, under rocks, logs, or in rich soil. They’ll create an ant mount, which is how you can easily spot their colony.

They usually won’t nest in your house, as they prefer the soil to your walls or insulation, but they will nest in your garden. Lawns are popular nesting spots for black ants.

A black ant nest will contain between 3,000 and 15,000 ants.

black ant infestation

Black Ants Diet

Black ants are omnivores. This means they eat both plants and animals to survive. Black ants don’t have a specialized diet so they will eat whatever food is available to them.

Damage From Carpenter Ants vs. Black Ants

Both carpenter ants and black ants cause damage to homes. 

The main difference between the two is that carpenter ants are wood-infesting ants, while black ants prefer any darker hiding spots they can fit into (typically wall voids or baseboards). 

Black ants especially like nesting in/near bathrooms where they have easy access to moisture. Black ants can cause damage to wires, insulation, and also wood, like the carpenter ant.

Carpenter ants will make nests in wood studs, joists, and rafters. They also prefer to create their own tunnels instead of nesting inside pre-made ones. This behavior is why carpenter ants are one of the ant species that’ll cause the most damage.

They can completely ruin wooden structures, as they dig out more and more room for their colony.

ants on the wood floor

Infestation Problems

When ants invade your home, you’ll have a problem at your hands, but depending on the species, the size and severity of the problem may differ.

Carpenter ants can cause more damage faster – which is why you want to act especially fast when finding these little bugs in your home.

Carpenter ants and black ants infest homes in different areas for a variety of reasons. Here are the infestation patterns and warning signs to look out for when it comes to carpenter ants and black ants.

Infestation Patterns of Carpenter Ants

As said, carpenter ants like to nest in wood. They don’t eat it, as there’s no nutritional value in wood that they can digest, so they simply dig out galleries inside wooden structures or trees, so they have space to lay eggs and grow the colony.

Now, if carpenter ants were to infest your home, they’d most likely scout for food beforehand. This would be the first sign of carpenter ants – scouting members of the nest, trying to locate food.

If you see this, there’s no damage done yet – you can stop them before they’re a problem.

When carpenter ants are digging, they’ll create frass, or debris, which they dump right outside their home. This is usually the second warning sign of carpenter ants.

carpenter ants on tree branch

As the colony gets bigger, they’ll cause more and more damage to your home. You may even start to notice external damage around the infested area. The carpenter ant queen will also start producing reproductive members (drones and virgin queens), who’ll be looking to fly out of your house.

These are very bad signs, as a lot of damage may have been done at this point. At this stage, you should call for professional help, who can help you get rid of the infestation.

Apart from nesting in your home, carpenter ants will also nest in rotting or decaying trees and tree stumps that are close to people’s homes. Look out for these.

Learn more: How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants

Infestation Patterns of Black Ants

Black ants don’t dig through wood like carpenter ants, but instead, like to nest in where there’s already room for them. This place has to be dark and warm – this could be in your walls or insulation.

Most times, black ants aren’t actually nesting in your home though. The most common reason for black ant infestations is food.

Black ants are constantly scouting for food. They’ll send out scouts, who may come across your kitchen. If you’ve left some out, they’ll pick up on it to let the rest of the colony know where there’s available food.

They’ll then carry it back to their nest, which they’ve made in soil, under rocks, or logs.

While this sounds less annoying, common black ants can sting you, and are known to contaminate food – they just won’t live in your home like carpenter ants.

carpenter ant


Carpenter ants and black ants are very different, both in looks and behavior. Carpenter ants are more likely to nest in your home, where they can cause damage due to their wood-infesting behavior. Black ants will usually just be looking for food.

Black ants are, as the name suggests, black, while carpenter ants have a brown/red-ish color. Carpenter ants are also bigger than black ants, with a heart-shaped head and a smooth thorax, whereas black ants have a rugged thorax.

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.

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