Spring is the time of year when one particular species of ant, the citronella ant, often swarms out of its colony to start new ones. These swarms, sometimes numbering in the thousands, needlessly alarm homeowners with thoughts of swarming termites.

Citronella ants or large, yellow ants (Acanthomyops Interjectus) are medium-sized ants reaching 1/4 inch in length. These ants are easily distinguished by their yellow-orange color in addition to the lemony or citronella odor they give off when their bodies are crushed. Just as homeowners use citronella candles to ward off outdoor insects, these ants use the same chemistry in their bodies as a natural defense mechanism against other insect predators.

Winged swarmers reach up to 3/8-inch long and usually swarm in the fall. When colonies are located near buildings, sometimes the swarm will occur indoors, which naturally is a concern for many homeowners.

We have received hundreds of telephone calls from homeowners requesting inspections for termites. Citronella ants are harmless pests. The colony is located in the soil and the workers feed exclusively on the honeydew from species of subterranean plant lice and mealy bugs. Homeowners usually do not know the colony exists, as the workers are active during nighttime hours. Vacuuming the swarming ants is usually the easiest means of dealing with these them, and pest control services are not generally needed.

Remember the identification keys of these ants:

  • Yellow/orange color
  • Citrus-like odor when crushed
  • Three distinct body parts
  • Elbowed antenna

As opposed to termites, which swarm in the springtime months:

  • Cigar-shaped bodies with only two parts
  • Dark bodies and white wings
  • Straight antenna

Other pests that are invading homes and businesses this time of year and may require professional pest control programs include rats, mice, and a variety of insect pests such as wood cockroaches, wasps, flies and spiders.

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