What Are Those Winged Ants in Ohio?

If you live in Ohio, you’ve likely noticed the drop in temperature, fall foliage falling to the ground, and familiar woodland animals disappearing for hibernation. But if you’re particularly unlucky, especially in late winter or early spring, you might have encountered another very strange phenomenon–swarms of winged ants.


These flying insects are in season in Ohio all winter long (although “swarming” typically occurs in the spring), and can be menacing pests for homeowners. In fact, amongst Ohio homeowners, they rank #1 in complaints above all other ants. If you’ve noticed winged ants in or around your Ohio home, there are steps you can take to address an infestation.

Key Takeaways

  • The winged ants you may have noticed in Ohio are most likely carpenter ant swarmers.
  • Carpenter ants don’t eat wood like termites but may nest in damp wood in your home or business and cause damage.
  • There are key differences to be aware of between carpenter ants and termites (i.e., appearance, sound, and the nature of the tunnels they create).
  • If your home or business becomes infested with carpenter ants, your best bet is to hire an exterminator.
  • To prevent an infestation before it happens, keep an eye on any moisture in your structure’s wood and cut off any potential bridges or passageways inside.

Carpenter Ants

The winged ants you’re seeing in or around your Ohio home are most likely carpenter ant swarmers. Similar to termites, carpenter ants live inside cavities in wood and may chew or damage the wood itself, which can be detrimental to your home. 


You might notice a parent nest and additional satellite nests inside or outside of your home. Listen for a dry crinkling sound (this rustling means the ants are chewing wood to make tunnels) or the sound of worker ants alerting other ants of potential danger by banging on the inside of your walls (this can be very loud). These bugs are most active at night when they travel to forage for food.


If you’ve noticed these initial signs, here’s what to look for to confirm that the bugs you’re seeing or hearing are carpenter ants.


Carpenter ants are typically ¼” to ⅝” long. They may be black, red, tan, yellow, or some combination of those colors, but the most common species native to Ohio is black with fine yellow or whitish hairs on the abdomen. Carpenter ants may or may not have wings—workers don’t, but the swarmers you may see flying are kings and queens who’ve emerged from the nest to mate. After mating, the queen loses her wings and returns to the nest to lay eggs.


Carpenter ants tend to build one parent nest and several surrounding satellite nests in wood, either indoors or outdoors. The parent nest is typically inside of damp, decaying wood and is home to the queen and the youngest ants and larvae. The wood surrounding the parent nest always has at least 15% moisture, typically meaning it was exposed to rain or a leak.


Satellite nests are home to older larvae and pupae as well as worker ants. These nests are near the parent nest (sometimes within the same structure) but can be in drier wood exposed to higher temperatures (this enhances growth for the larvae and pupae). Worker ants can often be found traveling between satellite nests or to the parent nest.


Contrary to popular belief, carpenter ants do not eat wood like termites do. Rather, they feed on protein and sugar from a variety of sources. Outside, or “in the wild,” carpenter ants may feed on other insects such as termites or budworm larvae, or they may eat parts of deceased insects. If they have access indoors, carpenter ants will feed on meat and pet food that’s been left out. They also enjoy sweet foods like syrup, honey, sugar, jelly, and (a carpenter ant favorite) honeydew.


Carpenter Ants or Termites?

If you’ve noticed damage to the wood in your home, heard that unsettling rustling sound, or seen bugs from afar but not up close, you may be unsure whether your home is infested with carpenter ants or termites. Here are some key characteristics to tell the two apart.


Carpenter Ant Termites
Narrow body, elbowed antennae, large forewings and small hind wings, typically dark in color, smaller head

Broad body, straight antennae, two equally sized sets of wings, lighter in color, larger head

Feed on protein and sugar, including other insects

Feed on the wood they nest in (more destructive)

Can be inside or outside, but more commonly outside

Can be inside or outside

Create neat, clean tunnels by chewing and pushing through

Create rough, jagged tunnels filled with mud by eating wood

Sound like crinkling cellophane or banging inside walls

Can make rattling, rustling, clicking, or buzzing sounds

King and queen ants swarm (fly) before mating

Termites can rarely fly, and when they do it’s only for a short period of time

Seeing Carpenter Ants in Your Home? Here’s What to Do

If you think you have a carpenter infestation in your Ohio home or business, there are steps you can take to stop it at the source. Carpenter ants can cause significant structural damage—they’re not as severe a problem as termites but can destroy just as much over time, so it’s important to act fast. 


You can start by spraying the affected area with two parts dish soap and one part water (soap is poisonous to carpenter ants). Essential oils like tea tree, lemon, orange, or cedarwood are another effective temporary solution (dip a cotton ball in the oil and rub down the affected area to prevent further damage). You can also look for a hole in your wall (which may lead to the parent nest) and patch it up. Finally, using an insecticide containing pyrethroids (an organic compound produced by the pyrethrum flower that kills bugs) may be effective.


However, if you’re looking for a temporary and guaranteed solution (especially if your carpenter ant problem becomes more severe), your best bet is to hire an exterminator. The professional-grade baits, insecticides, and treatments used by pest control will prevent the problem from coming back.

Tips to Prevent an Infestation

The best way to prevent a carpenter ant infestation before it happens is to control any moisture in your structure and keep wood dry. Try to protect your wood from rain, condensation, pipe leaks, and roof leaks, and if water manages to seep into your wood, correct the problem as soon as possible. Be sure to ventilate any potentially damp areas.


Your next best bet is to cut off any potential entrances for carpenter ants. Seal any cracks in your walls, store firewood (a carpenter ant favorite) in an elevated position away from your house, and cut any tree limbs or branches that reach close to your home. Small openings near the foundation, like where pipes and wires enter from the outside, are particularly important to block off. Sealing off these potential bridges and tunnels into your home or business will prevent carpenter ants from outside finding their way in.