Find out how to identify and deal with Citronella ants to protect your garden and your home
If you find yourself suddenly hit by a distinct smell of lemons when digging in your beautiful garden one day, it could be due to the hard-working Citronella ants. If they are pressed or feel their lives are in danger, these yellow ants will release an irritating compound to warn predators away and let the colony know there could be trouble.
The Latin name for Citronella ants is Lasius interjectus or Acanthomyops interjectus for the larger ants and Lasius claviger for the smaller ones. Both of these types of yellow ants are widespread throughout the United States and are most commonly found in eastern regions. They don’t normally wander out of their underground universes, and if they do it is either to mate or to find a new nest.
If you happen to stumble upon a colony in your garden or are suddenly bothered by swarms of ant-like insects in or around your home, your first step should be to determine exactly what you are dealing with.
Often times, yellow ant swarmers will be mistaken for termites by homeowners. This can cause unnecessary panic and distress. Luckily, it is not too difficult to tell these insects apart in order to properly identify the magnitude of your problem and address it correctly.
Citronella ants feed on the honeydew produced by aphids and mealybugs that eat plant roots and excrete a sugary substance. Unlike typical ants, they will not be interested in your dinner leftovers and unlike termites, they will not pose a threat to the integrity of your home. They eat this honeydew exclusively.
Keep reading to find out how to identify Citronella ants, what sets them apart from termites, and what you can do if you are faced with a potential Citronella ant infestation.
Identification of Citronella Ants.
Citronella ants usually swarm in late summer or fall, but not solely then. Swarming Citronella ants may also make their appearance at other times throughout the year depending on how warm the climate is in certain areas.
Citronella ants have a light yellow color, hence their name. Swarmers may also have a darker, reddish or light brown hue, but worker ants have less color variation. However, their color is not the entire reason they are called Citronella ants. If crushed, these ants will give off a lemon or citronella smell. So, in order to properly identify them, you will have to make at least one victim.
Citronella Ants Size.
As far as their size is concerned, adult worker Citronella ants can grow as long as 3/16th of an inch. Their queens are, of course, larger in size. The Citronella ants have an irregularly round, segmented body.
There are a few warning signs of Citronella ants you can look out for if you are worried about a potential infestation. First of all, you will need to delay your checking plans until earlier in the evening since they are nocturnal insects so you may miss them completely if you are looking for signs of Citronella ants during the day.
Next, you will need to watch out for Citronella ants in any moist soil areas around your house. They usually nest along a home’s foundation, under rotten logs or tree stumps, or under any rocks or concrete slabs.
If they make their way inside the home, they will do so by entering through any unsealed cracks in the walls or the floor or make their way in under exterior doors. Once inside, Citronella ants will be attracted to high moisture areas and moist crawl spaces. You will want to check for any signs of Citronella ants hiding in your basement, or behind or under the ceramic tiles in your bathrooms or kitchen.
How to Distinguish Citronella Ants from Termites.
The good news is that Citronella ants are not termites and have very dissimilar tastes to termites. They are not interested in eating away at your home’s drywall and wood beams and cause structural damage. They are much more peaceful.
However, in order for to you breathe easily, you must be sure that what you have in your garden are not termites and your identification of the Citronella ants is correct.
The easiest way to determine if you are dealing with Citronella ants or termites is the smell they give out when crushed. Only the Citronella ants will smell like lemon. The second biggest difference between these two insects is in their antennae. Termites have beaded antennae, while the antennae of Citronella ants are bent halfway.
Similarities to Termites
As far as similarities go, you will see two sets of wings on both termites and Citronella ants. However, if you are able to see veins running along the wings, then you are dealing with Citronella ants, not termites. The wings of the termite are also longer compared to those of the Citronella ant, often twice as long as their bodies.
You will want to take a close look at the insect’s shape to make a proper identification. The Citronella ant’s body is segmented and made up of three parts. The termite’s body, on the other hand, is made up of only two parts. In order to properly identify Citronella ants, go through all the items in our checklist above and you will have your definitive answer.
How Did I Get Citronella Ants?
If you identify Citronella ants in your garden, the most likely spot to find a colony is an area of moist soil near the house’s foundation. To avoid an ant infestation, keep your property clear of woodpiles and compost piles. Check that any outdoor faucets are not leaking and ensure that your gutter system is in working order and no water is draining on the house’s foundation.
If you find Citronella ants inside your house, the most probable scenario is that they swarmed inside through an open door or window or crawled through any cracks or under a door. They do not usually build nests inside.
Still, if there are areas of moist soil inside your house, you should look for signs of a Citronella ant colony there since that’s where they would set up a nest. Also, check the house for any unsealed cracks in the walls or the floor and any exterior doors without sweeps. Those could be their entry points. Citronella ants may occasionally nest under the floor slab in moist basements so make sure you also check there for any trails or signs.
How Serious Are Citronella Ants?
Finding Citronella ants in or around your home shouldn’t have you worried about your wellbeing. They do not have stingers and do not bite. If your identification efforts reveal that they are indeed Citronella ants and not termites, you can also rest easy as far as your home is concerned since they do not attack property structures.
They are, however, a nuisance and you should investigate matters further and try to apply one of the solutions available for getting rid of them from your property.
Signs of a Citronella Ant Infestation.
If you notice a sudden peak of yellow ant activity anywhere on your property, you could be dealing a Citronella ant infestation. You may notice trails of workers or swarming (flying) ants.
Swarmer ants take flight from the colony when they are sexually mature. They fly off in large groups to reproduce and help the colony grow. Swarming is also how they protect themselves from any predators they encounter.
If you’ve identified Citronella ants in your garden or your home, check high moisture areas for signs of a Citronella ant colony. Gardens, lawns, and moist soil areas near house foundations are typical nesting sites for ants. Sometimes, colonies can form under basement slabs or under large rocks or logs. Look for any heaped piles of soil as they are typical signs of an ant nest.
To make things easier, try to identify any ant trails and follow them to see where they go. Worker ants use trails to go from and to their nest so your best bet in finding their source is to follow them home.
Behavior, Diet & Habits.
The micro-worlds of ants are still a mystery to humans. Their ability to create vast, intricate, underground universes is an amazing feat. Still, scientists were able to determine what they eat and that is nothing else but the honeydew excreted by aphids and mealybugs.
As we’ve mentioned, high moisture soil is what Citronella ants are attracted to and use for nesting. They can find such areas near a home’s foundation if the gutters don’t properly drain water away from the house or under large logs or rocks that trap moisture from rain or lawn sprinklers or under porches. When they set up a nest, Citronella ants will dig into the soil and take out mounds of dirt while they make their underground galleries.
Intrusion into Homes.
Swarming Citronella ants can make their way into a house through open windows and doors and will swarm in an attempt to mate or locate their colonies. Worker ants can also enter through cracks or crawlspaces, so properly sealing your home is an important step in avoiding an ant infestation.
Larger yellow ant swarmers sometimes remain in the colony through the winter. If they do, they will try to find a temporary nesting space in nearby buildings by entering through cracks in the walls or the foundation.
If they enter a home, Citronella ants can nest in basements, or in logs of damaged wood and in any areas with high moisture like bathrooms or kitchens. They will not come foraging for food in the house and they won’t cause any damage to the property. The only damage, if it can be called that, would be the small piles of dirt they create at the entrance to the nest. If they decided to camp inside for the winter, come spring the Citronella ant colony will make its way back outside.
Queens produce new workers for Citronella ant colonies. Worker ants are sterile. When a colony is ready to grow, the queen will produce winged males and females named swarmers. When the time and conditions are right, they fly out of the nest to mate and reproduce.
After mating, the males will die. The females will go on to find suitable locations for a new colony. There, they will lose their wings, start laying eggs to produce workers, and become founding queens of the new Citronella ant colony.
Swarming Behavior/How to Manage a Citronella Ant Swarm.
Although they can be quite a big annoyance to homeowners, Citronella ant swarms only last for about three to four days at a time. Their swarming behavior only occurs when they are looking to mate or reproduce and once they have fulfilled their role, swarming Citronella ant will disappear.
Citronella ants do not respond to normal ant baits. Still, you have several options to get rid of this nuisance if it gets too much for you to handle.
You can soak any outdoor nests of Citronella ants you find in your garden with landscape sprays or call an exterminator to deal with the problem. However, treating your home with insecticide is not worth the bother, since you will expose yourself and your family to unnecessary chemicals and the swarms won’t last for extended periods of time.
You can also choose to seal or caulk any entry points the Citronella ants are using to get into the house once you identify them. The best and most environmentally friendly way to deal with a Citronella ant swarm is to vacuum them up as they appear.
That said, Citronella ants are not to be feared as they do not pose a threat to you or your family. They are usually rarely seen wondering about by homeowners as they spend most of their time underground. If, however, you do find Citronella ants trails in your home, you should take the time to investigate the matter further and apply the necessary solutions to avoid infestation.