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The common name “citronella ant” comes from the pungent lemony odor secreted by ants of this species as a defense mechanism when threatened and when crushed. Some entomologists place the citronella ant in the Genus Lasius along with the moisture (turf) ants. This species inhabits most of the continental United States.

Recognition

Citronella ant workers measure about 1/8 inch (3-4 mm) long and are bright yellow to orangeyellow in color. The winged reproductives (alates) measure 1/4 inch (6 - 7 mm) long (not including the wings) and are glossy brick-red or brownish-red in color The waist (pedicel) of the abdomen is 1-segmented (single node). The compound eyes of the workers (see upper right photograph) seem disproportionately small. Although no stinger is present, these ants will bite and spray pungent-smelling citronellin onto the persons or animals harming them or disturbing the colony.

Similar Ants

Moisture (turf) ants (Lasius species) may be similar to citronella ants in form, size, color and behavior but 1) have noticeably larger compound eyes than A. interjectus and 2) secrete pungent formic acid instead of citronellin as a defense response.

Biology

Citronella AntsColony founding is by a single mated female (queen). Colony size typically ranges from a few hundred to several hundred individuals. Favored nesting sites include rotting logs and landscaping timbers (and the soil beneath), decaying stumps and detritus-covered soil of fencerows and woodland settings. Swarming occurs in late summer through early autumn in natural settings. However, swarming may extend into winter months when nests are warmed by the radiant heat of overlying occupied structures. Workers forage honeydew from dandelion root aphids in the soil and homopteran insects (aphids / plant lice, mealy bugs, scale insects, etc.) on succulent plant parts above ground.

Habits

This species may arouse the concern of persons who notice the fall-winter swarms in landscaping, basements and crawlspaces. Citronella ants tend to import soil into sites in buildings chosen for nesting, including insulated sill plates and floor drain tiles. Similarly, nests may be located beneath slab foundations and in soil-floor crawlspaces. In such cases, the worker ants may be observed to forage indoors and the alates will aggregate around lights and windows.

Cultural Control & Preventative Measures

Citronella Ants that occasionally enter or swarm in buildings can be removed with a vacuum cleaner fitted with a hose attachment. Foraging by these ants in lawns and planting beds can be discouraged by controlling dandelions and other weeds (which serve as hosts for root aphids) in these settings. Trees that are infested with honeydew-producing insects can be made less attractive to foraging ants by periodically spraying the trunks with a 1 or 2% detergent solution or appropriately-labeled water-based garden insecticide in a 2 to 3 foot high band pattern at the base.
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Pest Control For Ants

Pest Control For Citronella Ants