Crawlies with Cri: Bi-colored carpenter ant

Bi-colored carpenter ant (Camponotus vicinus)

by Christy Solo

Don’t p-ant-ic!
While this week’s crawly is a carpenter ant, they’d much rather live in wooded areas than near or under a home. Although you just might want these beauties in your home – we’ll get to that in a minute.
Meet the bi-colored carpenter ant (Camponotus vicinus). The bi-colored carpenter ant is a large ant (queens can be up to just over one-half inch) native to the western United States. While they can be found in several states, the bulk live in California, Oregon and Washington.
We’re lucky enough to be able to spot these bi-colored beauties while we’re out hiking, but there are many people – many – who pay good money for them.
Pay for ants? Yep. As hobby ants go, bi-colored carpenters are one of the most popular, chillest and easiest to care for species available.
So, when we say you “might want them in your home” we mean, in their own home, inside your home.
What kind of home do bi-colored carpenter ants need? These aren’t your grandmother’s “ant farms.” To sustain a colony long term what you need is a formicarium. As you can see by the photos, they’re quite pretty – and they can be spendy too. An extra-large formicarium can run you $450. It’s another $55 for a queen and 10 ants to help her start her colony.
Seriously, though, what a conversation piece a fancy formicarium would be in your living room! Aquariums are so 2023! All the cool kids are going with ants now.
In addition to being calm, bi-colored are also slow growing and unlike many other ant species, they aren’t bothered by a lot of light. All these traits combined make them a great ant for folks just starting out in ant keeping.
In the wild, bi-colored can be found in a wide range of habitats, but they really like sandy to rocky soils. They also like dryer areas so are often found in places with sagebrush, pinyon juniper and Ponderosa pine woodlands.
They build their actual nests in spots with the highest moisture in their dry habitat. They like open forests, but aren’t usually found in densely wooded areas. Bi-colored dig their nests under stones or rotting logs.
With a name like “carpenter ant” you’d be inclined to think bi-coloreds eat wood. They don’t. They are quite capable of chewing on wood and will do so to enlarge their living area – if for example it’s built under a rotting log – but when it comes to food, they have a sweet tooth.
Bi-coloreds’ food of choice is honeydew produced by aphids, mealy bugs and scale insects. They do need some protein too and will eat small insects and carrion, so they are part of nature’s cleanup crew.
If you’re feeding bi-coloreds in your home formicarium they need sugar water – the same 4:1 mix as hummingbirds – fruit, organic honey and insects such as crickets and mealworms (frozen/thawed rather than live.)
Whether in the wild or kept as pets, bi-colored ants need their winter beauty sleep. They will hibernate from (roughly) November – March. Pretty nifty pet that only needs to be taken care of for half the year.
If you’d like to observe bi-colored carpenter ants in the wild and not in a formicarium in your home, check out dead, fallen trees next time you’re hiking in a warm, sandy spot. Elk Creek Trail and around Lost Creek Lake are some likely locations.