Have you ever stepped on or otherwise crushed trailing ants, smelled a strange odor—a bit like rotten coconuts? If so, it is probable that those ants were odorous house ants—and you can understand how they got their name!
Odorous house ants can be found trailing through kitchens in homes all across the U.S. This ant is most likely to enter homes after heavy rains when it is attempting to escape flooding of its shallow nest. Odorous house ants are tiny but fast. They usually travel in lines, but if they are disturbed or alarmed they will run around erratically, releasing their odor as they run. Some people have also equated their odor with a sort of a strange pine scent, though rotten coconuts are the most frequent association.
Small Ants in Your Home
But their foul odor is not the only unique thing about these tiny ants. They move their homes so often that if they were winged, they could have their own frequent flier program. During the summer, these ants will move their nests frequently in response to environmental conditions. This is not easy to do when you have thousands of ants and multiple colonies in each nest.
Some odorous house ants do have wings for a very short time. In the spring or early summer (depending on the geographic area), these ants will swarm to breed. After mating, the female may return to the colony to lay her eggs or may venture out to start a new one.
At only about 1/8 inch long, this dark brown or black ant is especially attracted to sweets, such as fruit juices and pastries, but it will also eat a variety of foods, including meats and pastries. And it can nest just about anywhere; under stones, logs, mulch, or debris; in the nests of birds or mammals; and inside homes, in walls, window frames, and insulation.
- Trim back trees and shrubs away from the house to remove this access point. Ants will climb plants and find cracks and crevices through which they can enter your home.
- Keep foods tightly covered and stored. Wipe counters and surfaces clean, as ants can have a feast on tiny crumbs and grease.
- Do not leave pet food in bowls when pets are not eating—this provides an easy-access attractant for all kinds of ants—as well as other pests, such as mice, cockroaches, and flies.
What to Use
- Bait: Baits are usually the best option for eliminating ants that have gotten into the home. Ant baits can be purchased at most home and garden stores. Following all label directions, the bait should be placed where ants have been seen. Because ants can be finicky and prefer different types of foods at different times of the year, you may need to try different baits. But be patient. The ants will feed on the bait, then carry it back to the nest to feed the colony. It is through this feeding that the insecticide will be transferred to, and kill, the queen and other colony members.
- Indoor sprays: Never spray trailing ants in your home. You will kill the workers that are there, but other ants will soon appear—having followed the scent trail laid down by the first set of ants.
- Perimeter treatment: Applying a properly labeled insecticide around the perimeter of the home and under siding can help keep ants from crawling in. This can be done by the homeowner, following all label directions; or you can hire a pest control professional.
- Nest treatment: If the ant nest can be found, it can be effective to treat the nest itself with a properly labeled insecticide. In some cases, however, the ant species will have multiple colonies, so treating a single nest will not relieve the problem. For this reason, it is important to identify the species before treatment.
When using any pesticide, always thoroughly read and follow all label directions and safety precautions. Keep all pesticides out of reach of children and pets.
Miner, A. Tapinoma Sessile Odorous House Ant. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, Animal Diversity Web, 2014.
Alder, Patricia and Waldvogel, Michael. A Guide to House-Invading Ants and Their Control. North Carolina State Extension, 2018.
Pest Control and Pesticide Safety for Consumers. United States Environmental Protection Agency.