Before you read all the great information we pillaged from the rest of the internet, take a look at what we commonly see during inspections.
This is a termite tunnel. Don't confuse it with ant tunnels that are also fairly common to the area. An ant tunnel will break apart easily and immediately when you touch it. Termite tunnels are made of hard mud; they will be more difficult to break away. When they do break in your hand, you should check to see if there are live termites inside. They generally look like the unattractive little white ones in the picture shown below (scroll down). Termites can obviously cause significant damage to your home. Even if you do not find live termites in the tunnel, you should have the house professionally evaluated. It is a very small price to pay considering the alternative.
Subterranean termites cause more damage to wood in service than any other insect. Although no figures exist for their impact on log homes, they are a serious concern, especially in regions of high risk.
Carpenter ants are found across North America, in the West at elevations up to 9,000 feet, and in the Central and Eastern regions to approximately 5,500 feet. In the Pacific Northwest and in some areas of the northern Midwest they are considered to be a problem equal to termites.
Very common in forests, they are more likely to infest homes near large trees or native chaparral, although infestations occasionally occur in urban neighborhoods. Although some species excavate tunnels into dry wood, most prefer moist, decay-softened logs and must have high humidity in their nesting area.
· Reproductive carpenter ants ( winged males and females ) leave the nest as early as January if the nest is in a heated structure. Those living outside in logs and stumps will not swarm until about early May. The fertilized queens must then find wet wood to establish a new nest.
· Colonies require approximately 2 years to mature to the point at which winged forms develop and swarm to establish a new colony.
· As with termites, ants have worker and larval forms.
· Primary nests may be in moist, outside areas with secondary nests in home logs excavated by ants.
Winged ants appear similar to winged termites. Here is the difference:
Signs of carpenter ant infestation include the large, black ants running about the house, or swarms of the winged reproductives in or on the house (usually in the spring); piles of fibrous, sawdust-like borings
· A few ants found inside a home don't necessarily indicate an infestation. Ants seen between spring and summer may indicate outdoor nests. Seeing ants between February and March may indicate an indoor nest.
· Ant tunnels contain no frass and have a smooth, almost polished appearance.
· Frass may be visible on or beneath logs.
· Frass often contains insect parts.
Locations are listed here in order of nesting preference*:
1. Inside walls.
2. In ceilings.
3. Under siding.
4. In wood in contact with soil.
5. Near gutter structures (especially at tile roofs).
6. Hollow doors.
8. Window sills.
* Results of a survey involving 30 pest control operators in the U.S. and Canada.
The nest may be behind a drawer in a dresser or cabinet, or behind books in a library. In an area that is seldom disturbed, such as an attic, the nest may be exposed to view, as on the plaster laths between 2 ceiling joists.