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June 13, 2019

What’s That Smell?

By Hogarth's Pest Control

Have you ever noticed tiny ants congregating on a droplet of melted ice cream that has fallen to the ground? Those tiny ants are known as ‘sweet ants’ or ‘sugar ants’ because their affinity for all things saccharine. The technical name for these ants is the ‘odorous house’ ant, and they are most commonly found in the kitchen snacking on sugary substances. These ants won’t cause any damage to the home, unlike carpenter ants and acrobats ants, but they are a nuisance insect that licensed pest control professionals can eradicate.

How To Identify

The odorous house ant does not get its name from a foul smell, per se. For instance, if you have discovered a trail of ants in your home, you will not notice any odor emitted. To an untrained eye, the species of ant does not have any physical traits that set them apart from others right away.  They do look similar to pavement ants, but their bodies only have one node as opposed to two. Due to their size, this can be difficult to distinguish at first glance.

To properly identify an odorous house ant (this is actually something we pest control professionals always do), you can crush one between your thumb and index finger. If the crushed ant smells like coconut, then you know for certain that it is an odorous house ant! You read that right, the odorous house ants smell shockingly similar to rotting coconuts. This scent is actually a chemical compound that is very similar to those emitted by rotting food— more specifically, the penicillin mold that causes food to rot.


Odorous house ants particularly enjoy carbohydrate-rich materials, such as plant nectar, honeydew from aphids, and sweet human foods.  As a result, these ants tend to invite themselves to picnics and into kitchens.  However, their saccharine-loving ways can also lead them to their demise; in most cases, odorous house ants respond well to sugar-based baits if they do find their way in to your kitchen.

Odorous house ant will essentially nest anywhere. They create large colonies that usually split into sub-colonies, often making them difficult to control and eliminate.  If you notice odorous house ants in your home, it is important that you do not attempt to self-treat. Many store-bought products will simply deter the ants, which forces them to take an alternative route. This only displaces the ants rather than eliminating them.

Many forms of self-treating often affect large quantities of ants at once; however, they do not affect the rest of the ants living in the colony. If your DIY fast-acting spray kills the first, unsuspecting victims that it touches, the other ants will take notice to the spike in mortality rate and re-route to a new food source. This food source will always be near water; in kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms.

Takeaway Tips:

  • To identify an odorous house ant, squash the ant between your fingers; it should smell like coconut.
  • We advise that customers DO NOT attempt to spray or treat odorous house ants with store-bought products. Spraying will cause budding and make the problem much worse and harder to deal with.

The key to eliminating an odorous house ant colony is a professional pest control treatment. If you have been noticing ants inside of your home, don’t hesitate to reach out. We have been eliminating issues with these ants for 25 years, so give us a call today!


Liesch, P. “Identifying Insects by Smell, Part 2: Odorous House Ants.” Insect Diagnostic Lab, UW Madison Department of Entomology, 24 Apr. 2019, labs.russell.wisc.edu/insectlab/2019/04/24/identifying-insects-by-smell-part-2-odorous-house-ants/.

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