An interview with an odorous house ant


March 2, 2020

Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White,

This tiny species also goes by the aliases sugar ant, stink ant and coconut ant. Photo courtesy of, and copyrighted by, Gene White,

Odorous house ant (Tapinoma sessile): Small in stature, big in numbers

Pest Management Professional magazine (PMP) (checks notes): Let’s see: Odorous house ants. Twelve-segmented antennae. One node or pedicel. Stocky body. Smells like rotten coconut when crushed. Difficult to control. Is all that correct?

Odorous house ant (OHA): OK, but who knows what rotten coconut smells like? Let’s say “pungent floral.” As for “difficult to control,” that’s true — and we’re proud of it.

PMP: How so?

OHA: Our species has large numbers and can infest structures. If we have adequate food, we stay in one place. But any growing army needs to be fed. That’s when we invade structures and become noticed. By that time, we usually have a large force.

PMP: Why does the army — er, colony grow so fast?

OHA: We are naturally preserving the colony. We have multiple queens, and we can bud, or form new colonies so that we have multiple locations with thousands of ants in each location. From egg to adult, we are quick — less than 90 days, depending on environmental factors.

PMP: What is your ideal environment?

OHA: We want what any ant — or for that matter, any insect — wants: food, water and harborage. For our species, crawlspaces are great because they offer comfortable temperatures and access to food by allowing us to forage into living areas. One of our easiest meals is pet food left out. And there is no shortage of water, especially in summer around uninsulated air conditioning ducts. It’s a regular oasis!

PMP: Well, I can vouch for your attraction to protected areas. It is common to find several different infestation hot spots under insulation in a crawlspace.

OHA: Please! We don’t “infest.” These are our living spaces, and we ants were in these areas long before the house was built. See, we view humans as infesting our environment. But they bring food, so we don’t complain.

PMP: What is the best way to manage you and all the other odorous house ants?

OHA: I think we must stop this interview. I can’t give you secrets to managing us. That would be foolish, don’t you think?

PMP: Sorry, let me rephrase the question: Why do you think professionals have such a difficult time when dealing with odorous house ants?

OHA: That’s easy! Some technicians rush and only treat the outlying areas, like around pet dishes or countertops. Sure, we sacrifice a few foragers, but our colony is not affected. The real success happens with a thorough inspection and when the trails are traced all the way to their source. Once you find the source, use multiple tools. One product will help for a while, but many weapons are better than one. Oh, no! Did I just give you some key intelligence?

PMP: Thanks for the intel. So integrated pest management (IPM) is still the key to managing pests, even the tough ones. (Lifts foot, performs non-chemical control with shoe, sniffs the air.) Yep, I’d say pungent floral.


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