Ants can be a problem year-round but in spring and early summer, they can be a bigger challenge. Of the many types of ants, one of the most common is odorous house ants.
Odorous house ants overwinter in their nests, and then they emerge in the spring and summer looking for new sources of food. Winged reproductive ants make an appearance May through July. So spring and early summer are when they’re most likely to be a problem and most noticeable, though they may be in your home before you realize it.
Also nicknamed “stink ants,” odorous house ants don’t have much of a smell until crushed or stepped upon. Then they give off an odor like rotten coconuts, which is the reason for their other nickname, “coconut ants.” The smell isn’t too bad if just one or two have been crushed, but can become overpowering when many have been crushed, with the scent lingering a long time.
How to identify odorous house ants
Odorous house ants are tiny, only about 2.4 to 3.3 millimeters long. They’re dark brown or black with uniform color and an irregularly shaped thorax. Their antenna contains 12 segments. The most obvious way to identify them from other species of ants, like pavement ants, is through the least favorite method – crushing them and noting if they give off the telltale scent that gives them their name.
What do odorous house ants eat?
Unfortunately for humans, odorous house ants are omnivores so among their food choices are things we eat. That draws them to human settlements.
Scouts hunt for food for the colony. Because of their very small size, they can easily get into a house through the tiniest cracks and openings. When they’ve found a food source, scouts leave a scent trail invisible and undetectable to humans that other ants from their nest can follow it to the same source. When you see a line of ants, they’re following a scent trail to food.
Odorous house ants especially love sugar, so they’ll eat crumbs from cookies, cakes, donuts, etc. as well as fruit and vegetables. As omnivores, they’re not limited to sugars, though. They’ll also eat dairy products, dead insects, meat, grease, dog and cat food, etc. Their preferred food, though, is honeydew, a sweet substance produced by aphids and mealybugs.
Where do odorous house ants live?
Odorous house ants are native to North America, covering the entire United States from its northern border with Canada and down to Mexico. They often have very large colonies but will also create offshoot colonies in warm weather. A single colony can have several thousand worker ants with many queens.
Nests are typically found outdoors under rocks, boards, etc. Odorous house ants will also nest inside buildings if they found an area with moisture and warmth. They will also nest inside wood damaged by termites.
Odorous house ants are some of the best foragers in the insect kingdom. When they find a large food source they’ll engage in “dispersed central-place foraging,” which means they moved their queens, brood and workers closer to the food source, thereby reducing transportation time and effort. This can be very bad for homeowners if the food source is your house.
What attracts odorous house ants?
Odorous house ants are attracted by sweet and sweet-smelling substances. In nature, that’s the honeydew produced by certain insects. Most commonly, odorous house ants get that honeydew from aphids, but they’ve even been known to protect certain forms of butterfly caterpillars from predators in exchange for the honeydew the caterpillars excrete.
When near humans and their homes or businesses; soda, juice, dessert crumbs, and other sweet substances will attract them. That’s why keeping your environment clean and food carefully sealed is the first step in deterring insects.
Unfortunately, odorous house ants are extremely hard to kill. They’re even known to continue functioning when injured, such as a queen that kept reproducing despite a crushed thorax.
Arrow Can Handle Your Ants
If you have an ant problem, call Arrow Exterminating to identify and eliminate them. We have decades of experience handling pest invasion. For more information or to schedule an inspection, contact Arrow today.