The Pitter Patter of REALLY Tiny Feet

By , July 15, 2011

Michelle made a discovery recently that made us feel better at first, but now we’re not so sure. When we first started hearing ants in the walls this summer, we assumed that the sound came from them chewing blue foam board. Michelle pried up a few segments of paneling in the corner where we could hear them, and discovered that there’s no foam board there. The fiberglass insulation in that part of the wall has paper backing, and the sound we took to be chewing is actually the ants walking on the paper. While we’re relieved that we aren’t hearing them tunnel, we assume they must be, and makes us worry about the extent of it.

A few days ago we tore out a big section of the paneling to see what we could do about the ants. This wall, the front of the cabin, had been completely destroyed by carpenter ants, and replaced with pressure treated wood by the original owner/builders.

carpenter ant holes

The little bastards have been tunneling in pressure treated wood. They're not supposed to do that! (Photo: Michelle Zeiger)

We pulled out the insulation and found the ants clustered tightly in a few places. They seemed almost torpid, only becoming active when we started puffing diatomaceous earth on them. There weren’t that many, all in all. Unfortunately, the ones that were there had been busy. We found that they had tunneled into one of the pressure treated supports! We didn’t know they could do that. It looks as if it might have gotten wet in the past. It’s dry now, but the damage is done. Luckily, it isn’t too extensive. We plan to fill it, shoot foam sealant in all the cracks we can see they’ve used to access the area, swab with borax solution, and dust the whole liberally with diatomaceous earth.

We left the cavity open for several days, and saw almost no ant activity. We don’t know if this is good or bad. I’m hoping that they vacated because of the exposure, and that in the days we left it open they established new patterns of activity away from the wall. On the other hand, I’d like to see what they were doing in there, and maybe gather some clues on how to thwart them.

I’d assumed that they had created an egg chamber in the outer wall, possibly moving them in and out to take best advantage of the daily warmth. Their reaction to our invasion of “their” space didn’t make us think they had any such concerns. Since there’s no food in there, it’s hard to say what brings them in.

From what we can see, the remaining logs are sound, so we should be in pretty good shape if we can discourage them from going in and out. Besides what we’ve done inside, we’re increasing our efforts to eradicate the nests in the yard outside. Time will tell, as always, and our best assumption is that we’ve taken a couple steps forward, and will inevitably take some back.

4 Responses to “The Pitter Patter of REALLY Tiny Feet”

  1. Ants are difficult, aren’t they? I hope you can get rid of them all and that the damage isn’t too bad! Best of luck to you!

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Thanks, Katy. I think we have them under control for now. Since the soil of our peninsula is basically decayed wood, inevitably the ants will win, it’s just a matter of trying to make sure that doesn’t happen till after our lifetimes!

  3. Carline says:

    I learned a trick years ago that really works for ants. Mix one part each, powdered laundry detergent (I try to get unscented), one part powdered sugar, one part borax powder. I use a cup each for my 1800 sq foot house and usually have some left over. I take a spoonful and tap it against the foundation of the house all around the outside. I guess if I could get inside the walls like you did, I would put a generous amount there too. I got this from a friend who had worked for Orkin for years and said it was better than the chemicals they use. It’s cheap, give it a try.

  4. Mark Zeiger says:

    Hi Carline, we do something similar, only we skip the laundry detergent and just use borax powder with granulated sugar. It works well for us, as long as the ants come and get it. There seems to be a lot of debate whether or not carpenter ants are attracted to sweet or not. From long personal experience (the college Michelle and I attended was over run with carpenter ants, perhaps even worse than here!) they are, at least some times, but since they’re also attracted to meat, we’ve thought about “spiking” vole corpses with borax. That would require covering them so that no other animals got at them, as I guess the borax will kill them, too. We’ve had some of our bait containers completely emptied, others have been untouched, so it may be a ratio issue? Hard to say.

    The advantage of the bait, in your mixture or mine, is that the ants supposedly will pick it up and take it back to the nest to feed to others, hopefully including the queen. It’s supposed to destroy the whole nest in about 10 days.

    However, since we are literally surrounded by a forest of carpenter ants, we seem to get immigrants to take over the old haunts of whatever nests we manage to kill.

    We sealed the gaps in the wall with insulating foam, but since that had been done previously, and we found holes chewed through it, we sprinkled straight borax on the foam while it was still tacky. We hope that will kill any ants that try to chew through it.

    We are using the borax/sugar mixture outside the walls, as Michelle’s concerned that the sugar inside might attract moisture.

    Thanks for the comment! The fact that your recipe came from an “Orkin man” makes it sound very worth trying.

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