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Excavation of building insulation by carpenter ants (Camponotus ligniperda, Hymenoptera; Formicidae)

| June 18, 2013

A total of 2250 Camponotus ligniperda workers and 120 ant larvae were used in 3 experiments investigating the ability of the insulation materials expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS) and Foamglas to withstand excavation and nest construction.

ant-580The three experiments investigated time until initiation of excavation, level of damage after 5 days of excavation and the effect of elevated temperatures on level of excavation. EPS and XPS was excavated by ants and showed similar properties in terms of ability to withstand initiation and establishment of nests. Foamglas did not experience any nest construction and was significantly less influenced by the ants in terms of weight removed, relative loss of insulation material, area excavated and category nest score.

Ants showed a general preference for heated insulation, and heated EPS and XPS blocks experienced significantly higher levels of ant damage compared to cold blocks. As there was no nesting activity in Foamglas, no difference between hot and cold insulation could be detected.


Ant societies are important elements in most terrestrial habitats. They aid in nutritional recycling and play a regulatory role in the community through its interactions with plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms (Hölldobler & Wilson, 1990; Douwes et al., 2012). Under natural conditions they establish and construct advanced nests which give them the opportunity to perform efficient foraging at the same time as it provides protection against environmental factors and predators. Ant colonies are long lasting, grow relatively slowly and may become large (Mallis & Hedges, 1997; Douwes et al., 2012). Colonies of common ant pest species often contain several thousand to more than 10 000 individuals (Akre et al., 1994; Hansen & Klotz, 2005). They utilize concealed spaces and most species manipulate their nesting site by excavation or construction of well-defined areas for specific tasks. The location of a nest is determined by the structure of the habitat, suitability and availability of nest substrate in combination with abiotic factors such as temperature and moisture levels (Hölldobler & Wilson, 1990; Klotz et al., 1998; Chen et al., 2002; Buczkowski, 2011; Mankowski & Morrell, 2011).

ant-150Carpenter ants (Camponotus spp., Picture 1) have strong jaws and construct nests in wooden materials such as partially broken down tree-trunks or stumps, living trees and hard dried wood (Hansen & Klotz, 2005). This habit of nest construction leaves them in skirmish with humans when the ants move into buildings (Akre & Hansen, 1990; Fowler, 1990) to utilize the wide array of nesting materials available (Picture 2). Living inside a building also excludes natural vertebrate predators and competitors at the same time as it offers elevated temperatures and favorable microclimatic conditions.

The two most common carpenter ants found in northern Europe and north Scandinavia, Camponotus herculeanus Linnaeus, 1758 and Camponotus ligniperda Latreille, 1802 both inhabit buildings (Collingwood, 1979; Birkemoe, 2002; Hansen & Klotz, 2005). Carpenter ants are of concern as pests in forested areas, and of great economic importance (Rust & Su, 2012).

People gets stressed by having ants in their buildings, ants may weaken carrying structures or reduce insulation (Fowler, 1990; Akre & Hansen, 1990; Mallis & Hedges, 1997). In Norway the direct cost of professional carpenter ant control was estimated to $1.5 million in 2007 (Ottesen et al., 2009), but taking into account the private control efforts and the material and labor needed to repair the buildings, this problem constitutes a major cost for the Norwegian society.

In other parts of the world, similar figures are higher and the estimated cost of carpenter ant control in Washington and New Jersey State in USA was $25 million and $12.6 million in 1980, respectively (Hansen & Klotz, 2005)…….

This is a preview of a full article published in International Pest Control – May/June 2013 issue.

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Authors: Anders Aak1*, Tone Birkemoe2, Heidi Lindstedt Heggen1 & Kristin Skarsfjord Edgar1

1) Norwegian Institute of Public Health – Department of Pest Control. Lovisenberggata 8, Postboks 4404 Nydalen, NO-0456 Oslo, Norway.
2) Norwegian University of Life Sciences – Ecology and Natural Resource Management. Høyskoleveien 12, Postboks 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway

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Category: Public health

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