Odorous House Ants Facts + How to Get Rid of Them

Odorous house ants are also known as the coconut or the stink ants. They are tiny with the adult measuring between 2-3.2mm in length. Those ants are either dark brown or black with a node on the petiole which is normally hidden by their abdomen.

The thorax is characterized by an irregular shape that looks uneven from a distance. When odorous house ants are scared or crushed, they emit a bad odor that smells like rotten coconuts. This is what differentiates them from other ants.

However, others like the carpenter and the citronella ants can also produce an odor. How an ant smells depends on the type and species. I.e. the citronella ants will produce an odor that smells like citric acid. Carpenter ants smell like vinegar when crashed.

Odorous House Ants Facts and How to Get Rid of Them
Odorous House Ants Facts and How to Get Rid of Them

Odorous house ant facts

All ants are different in their own way but some can be very similar in terms of what they eat and physical characteristics. Below are some facts that can help you in identifying them:

  1. The odorous house ant develops and goes through a complete metamorphosis. This means they go through the 4 stages I.e. egg, Larva,  pupa, and finally the adult stage
  2. The above development is affected by a number of things and can take anywhere between 34 and 83 days
  3. When crushed, they emit an odor similar to that of rotten coconuts which is how they got their name
  4. Since they forage inside homes, they could easily contaminate food
  5. The ants do not bite or sting
  6. They are easily driven away by the presence of Argentine ants
  7. Residual sprays cause budding among them and they will split to form sub-colonies as they scatter.
  8. Their bad smell acts as a defense mechanism and warns other ants against danger

Odorous house ants create colonies in two ways. The first one happens when the reproductive females and winged males swarm out the nest to mate during the summer. The second one occurs when a queen and some worker ants bud off to form a new colony away from the main one.

Diet and eating habits

Although odorous ants can eat any kind of food, they prefer sweet and sugary things like pastries and juices. When they are outside, honeydew produced by mealybugs and aphids is a favorite. They, therefore, protect these insects making their elimination hard.

Since honeydew production decreases during autumn, the ants tend to move indoors. When they come into a house, they will go for any type of food. The attraction to tasty food is what brings the confusion between them and the sugar ants. 

In case there is a threat of a predator, the ants are seen moving very fast with their abdomens raised in the air. The sign of an infestation is the presence of worker ants foraging and at times winged swarmers may be seen around.

Habitat and nesting areas

These ants are also unique from the way they move their homes. In summer, they can not stay in a place for more than weeks. They tend to be active and will move their nests frequently.  This is despite the fact that they exist in populations of thousands and in multiple colonies.

The male has wings that are dropped off after mating. In early summer and spring, they swarm to mate after which they shed their wings and die sooner or later. After this, the female either returns to the colony to lay the eggs or they may choose to start a new colony elsewhere.

When outdoors, odorous ants can nest in most places including in debris, logs, mulch birds’ nests, under-stones. When they come into the house, they live in window frames, cabinets, and creaked walls. This means they can be found both indoors and outdoors.

Just like most ants, the odorous ants live in colonies.  Among 1000 worker ants,  they may be two or more queen ants. It is the queens that lay eggs to reproduce while the worker ants spent time feeding them while looking for food. 

Causes: Why do odorous house ants smell?

There are ants that smell when attacked or squashed. Those are known as odorous house ants because of the bad odor they produce as a defensive mechanism. When they feel threatened, they produce this bad smell to confuse and keep the predator away.

When threatened with crashes, odorous house ants produce a certain odor that smells like rotten coconuts. They like staying indoors during the cold rainy seasons because when they are outdoors, they make shallow nests. Those can not keep them warm then the weather gets cool and they seek shelter in your home.

We all have a habit of squashing or squeezing ants then they irritate us. However, you should never do that against your skin. Some of the smelly liquid that ants produce can irritate and burn through the outer layers.

When they get alarmed or disturbed, they are quick to break ranks and erratically run around. As they escape, they tend to release a bad odor. Some people equate this to the pine scent but a majority agree it is like that of rotten coconuts.

How to get rid of odorous house ants

To get rid of odorous house ants, spray a mixture of 120ml white vinegar and 60ml water on them. This solution will only kill them on contact so be close enough while spraying. Place cotton balls soaked in white vinegar near holes and cracks that they use to enter the house to deter them.

This solution can also be used to wipe their tracks so that they do not follow each other into the house. Vinegar will destroy and neutralize the pheromones that they use to invite other worker ants into your house. You can also use the same ratio to make a solution of cinnamon or lemon to repel odorous ants.

Before you start controlling odorous house ants, you need to locate their nests. Killing one or two of those that you see crawling on the counters, walls or the floor will not help. Identifying where they are coming from will help in achieving a long term solution.

This can be achieved by frequently and carefully observing their trails.  Once this has been done, it becomes easy to get rid of the ants. The next step in controlling the infestation is by keeping them out of the home.

Remove your pets feeding bowls after they are done eating because those will attract odorous ants. Ensure that any food that is spilled on the floor is wiped and avoid keeping your dust been in the house.

The worker ants are constantly looking for food and keeping your kitchen and dining area clean will deter them. You can also pour a handful of baby powder on the ants to kill and repel them.

Control measures

You can use recommended pesticides to kill and control those ants. One of the easily available detergents that kills ants is Windex. You can use Windex to kill ants at home and this is one of the best and safe DIY solutions at home.

However, if you use pesticides for the worker ants that you see around, this will only provide a temporary solution. Other ants will still trail those that you have killed by using their tracks. This is why it is important to wipe and mot their tracks to deter them. 

If the ants are coming in from the garden or yard, you can use pesticides to make a wall that bares them from coming into your home. Once you have identified their nests, you can use toxic pesticides to destroy them. This will help in eliminating an entire colony.

Odorous house ants bait  

You can use baits to trap and kill odorous ants. Mix 2 tablespoons of sugar with 2.5 tablespoons of baking soda and place it on their tracks. When they eat it, the baking soda will kill them. Since baking soda takes some time to eliminate them, the worker ants will take to feed the queen and this will eliminate an entire colony.

When using baits, you need to be patient as it takes time to work. Observe what odorous ants like to eat around your house and use that as bait to kill them. You may need to try different types of baits using depending on where you need to eliminate them.

Once the workers feed on the bait, they store it in their body, take it to the colony back in the nest where they regurgitate it for the queen and her young ones to feed. This takes care not only of the worker ants but the queens left in the nests thus eliminating the whole colony.

The baits are placed on the trails that the ants follow when traveling. One could also monitor areas of high activity and place the baits there. This is important as the ants tend to lay down chemical trails of a substance known as pheromones between the nest and food source. This enables other ants to keep following and to identify the source of food.