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. These citronella ants are harmless pests and usually feed on honeydew from subterranean plant lice and mealy bugs. Homeowners usually do not know the colony exists, as the workers are active during nighttime hours.

Citronella ants are easily distinguished by their yellow-orange color and the lemony citronella odor they give off when their bodies are crushed. They use the same chemistry in their bodies as a natural defense mechanism against other insect predators, similar to how homeowners use citronella candles to ward off outdoor insects.

The colony of citronella ants is located in the soil, and the workers feed exclusively on honeydew from species of subterranean plant lice and mealy bugs. Winged swarmers, which can reach up to 3/8-inch long, usually swarm in the fall. When colonies are located near buildings, sometimes the swarm will occur indoors, which can be a concern for many homeowners.

If homeowners experience a citronella ant infestation, vacuuming the swarming ants is usually the easiest means of dealing with them. Pest control services are not generally needed as citronella ants are harmless. Remember, these ants are not to be confused with termites, and they do not cause any structural damage to buildings.

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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