A Quick Overview of Odorous Ants

Odorous house ants is one of the most common species of ants that are found in homes. These native ants can adapt quickly to any environment and can be seen throughout the United States. They can be found on sandy beaches, pastures and fields, forest, wet areas, houses, and other buildings. As long as these ants stay outdoors, they go largely unnoticed and are not considered pests. However, when they invade homes and start foraging for food in our kitchen, then they become pests that need to be eradicated.



An odorous house ant is small that is about 1/8 inch long and dark brown in color, and does not have an upright node between the thorax and abdomen. These ants are often mistaken with the Argentine ants because of their almost identical size and appearance. Their name comes from the rotten coconut smell that is given off when the worker gets crushed. These ants do not have stings, but are capable of biting. The bite is not painful because the ant is so small.

These ants do not produce large, easily visible nests like other ant species. Their nests are made smaller and can be found in the soil or beneath rocks, stones, mulch, debris, bricks, logs, boards, or other object on the ground. They can also nest under the loose bark of stumps and logs, in stacks of firewood, trash piles, animal nests, under shingles, under mulch in flower beds, and more. Indoors, they can nest in wall and floor voids, mostly in moist or warm areas.

If these ants are found indoors (wingless ants), it may be an indication that they are nesting outdoors and entering the house in search of food. However, if winged swarmers are found indoors, or if workers are seen in great numbers, it is an indication that they are nesting within the house.



There are two ways for a new colony to be established:

  1. This happens when the winged reproductives leave the colony to swarm. These reproductives will mate and the fertilized female will establish a new colony.
  2. This happens when a queen and workers moves away the main colony and form a new colony.



Controlling these ants can be challenging for most homeowners, because this pest has the habit of moving its nest site every few weeks. Their colonies are often made of a main colony, and many satellite nest sites with queens and broods of their own. The main colony and their satellite colonies are connected by foraging trails. If you find a nest in your home, it is likely that they also have a colony or colonies located outside. Their colony size may range from several hundred to many thousands of individuals. Each colony also, contain many reproductive queens.



The odor of the odorous house ants are their main protection against their enemies. Although they do not have stingers to ward off trouble, they will run around and emit odor from their anal glands when they are disturbed. Although this behavior is not intimidating to humans, their behavior can save them from enemies as small as them.

Odorous house ants are known for their love of honeydew made by insects, such as scale insects, aphids, mealybugs, and plant hoppers. They protect the insect that produces the honeydew, then eat it. They also feed on flower nectar and other plant secretions. They can also feed on both live and dead insects, dead and decaying animals, etc.

If found at home, these ants can feed on a variety of food, such as meats, vegetables, pet foods and fruits. They especially like sugar, honey, sweetened cereals, syrup, pastries, and other sugary products. Since they love sweets so much, they can easily be given sweet baits, such as liquid baits.



If you can follow the trail of these ants, where they are entering a home, make sure to apply an appropriately labelled insecticide to discourage the ants from re-establishing their trail. This is most effective if you have recently found a single foraging trail in your home. However, if there is heavy population in or around your home, you may be required to take long term-control of these ants.


Long-term control includes:

  1. Locating and treating nest sites
  2. Removing attractive food sources
  3. Seal all potential entry points
  4. Avoid leaf litter
  5. Use proper baits that are designed against ants
  6. Apply treatment of residual insecticide
  7. Hire a professional pest control company

If you need help with an existing ant problem, contact your local Preventive Pest Control branch. For more information, read our Ant Control page.