Carpenter ants vary in length from 6 to 25 mm. Workers are generally 6 to 13 mm long. The reproductive forms are distinct in size, with males ranging from 9 to 10 mm while females are the largest, varying in length from 12 to 25 mm. The body is divided into three segments, with a very slim waist separating the thorax and abdomen. Their elbowed antennae are segmented. Male and female adults have wings at mating time, and the front wings, if present, are much longer than the hind ones. The red and black carpenter ant has a dark brownish black body, with a reddish brown thorax. The black carpenter ant is uniformly dark brownish black. The red carpenter ant and the black carpenter ant are two of the most common types found in Canada.
All ants undergo complete metamorphosis, so their nest may contain eggs, larvae and pupae as well as adults. Carpenter ants live in large colonies consisting of hundreds of workers, all sterile females, several reproductive males and females, and one or more queen. The male members exist in the colony only briefly, dying soon after mating, and the fertilized females fly on to new sites where they establish new colonies. During warm weather, eggs are laid and develop through all stages in about 66 days (under optimum conditions). The workers are responsible for caring for the young and foraging for food to feed the rest of the colony.
When part of an established colony wanders into a nearby structure, it sometimes establishes a smaller satellite colony there. Some experts actually consider this as the main mechanism for house invasions by carpenter ants.
Carpenter ants eat both plant and animal matter. Their natural food sources consist of insects and other small invertebrates, and sweet exudates from aphids and other insects. Protein and sweet foods found in and around homes also provide sustenance for foraging workers. Workers will consume food on the spot, and regurgitate it back at the nest to nourish developing larvae, non-foraging workers and the queen.