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We did some research to discover which sorts of bugs our pest control customers in Knoxville, Sevier County, Blount County, and other surrounding areas encounter most often. One of the top three problem pests was a critter that we haven’t covered yet on our blog. We apologize for the delay and would now like to give you an introduction to the odorous house ant, a bug that causes a great deal of trouble for East Tennessee homeowners.

The odorous house ant gets its strange name from the unpleasant smell that it gives off when you crush it. The scent is usually described as a rotten citrusy smell; imagine something that’s somewhat sickly sweet. Another common name for these ants is sugar ants (due to their tendency to forage for sweet foods). Growing up, we just called them “little back ants.” There are a lot of little black ants in the world, but these are the ones that are most likely to cause trouble in your house.

The problem with odorous house ants is that their colonies can contain thousands of workers (actually, 10,000 is not an uncommon population), and they can spawn multiple colonies in the same area. Each of these sister colonies has its own queen; in fact, unlike some ant species, odorous house ants have no problem with maintaining multiple queens per colony. Since only the queens lay eggs, having several queens at a time can result in major population explosions.

Odorous house ants build shallow nests under almost any sort of debris that they may find around your house. You may frequently recognize them by the orderly lines that they make while foraging. You are particularly likely to see these trails leading to a sweet food source, including starchy pet foods, sticky garbage cans, and sweet-smelling house plants. Like all bugs, ants’ foraging cycles are dependent on moisture. You may be more likely to find them in your house after or during major weather events like soaking rains (when they are avoiding floods) or lingering droughts (when they are seeking water in your house).

If you want to try to control odorous house ants on your own, you need to consider what ants need to survive. The key factors that every insect pursues are shelter, food, and water. Begin your ant control by removing any debris that could be harboring a colony. Move wood piles away from the house, and rake leaf litter and branch debris away from the walls. Also, bear in mind that ants are expert climbers and can easily enter your home from above by using an overhanging branch to reach your roof.

As I mentioned, these ants are very methodical. It’s possible that you’ll be able to follow one of their foraging lines back to the nest. In that case, use an over-the-counter pesticide labeled for exterior use to treat the nest itself. Don’t forget, though, that it’s quite possible more than one nest is in place around your home. Keep your eyes peeled for other ant trails even if you’ve successfully treated one or more nests.

However, it is possible that you cannot follow the ants’ trail because it is not immediately evident. We’ve heard of these ants coming right out of electrical outlets or underneath baseboards, which makes it hard to track them. In such cases, use soapy water to wipe down the areas where you find them. This will remove any sweet spills that may be attracting them and will help to eliminate the pheromone trails (basically, scent trails) that they are leaving behind for other ants to follow. Once the area is very clean, rely on ant baits to try to eliminate the hidden colony. Hopefully, if their original food source is removed, they will take the bait back to the waiting colony members and handle all of the ant extermination themselves.

Of course, Russell’s Pest Control knows that ant removal can be very tricky. If you don’t want to tackle the little black horde on your own, feel free to give us a call or visit our contact page. Ants are one of our specialties, and we’d be glad to handle the issue so you don’t have to spend time on it.

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