Odorous house ants are especially pesky, prevalent

May 20, 2011, 13:19 PM by User Not Found

Last week, Sharon Cage walked into her kitchen and found ants marching across the counters. They were dark in color, all the same itty-bitty size, squeezing their way in around the window sill.

Ants in the house creep her out, especially when they crawl around the kitchen.

"I don't want to eat them, I don't want to drink them," said Cage, a retired hospital administrator who lives with her husband in Kansas City, Kan. She grabbed the bug spray.

The ants invading homes like Cage's around town are odorous house ants, pests that some researchers say are making a run at becoming the Midwest's public enemy No. 1 among ants in urban and suburban areas.

That's bad news for homeowners, entomologists say, because these little guys are notoriously tough to control.

Kill the ones crawling around the bathtub and 95 percent of them remain alive and well back home in the nest.

And that's not all.

"It seems the season for them is longer now," said Grzesiek Buczkowski, an urban entomologist who researches these ants at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

Professionals "would usually only treat in spring and summer. Now they're treating for them in winter. We are hearing from exterminators that they are getting more calls, and at really odd times, like the middle of January."

The ants started their march on Kansas City a few weeks ago when the weather began warming up. Now they're "bugging us," said Beverly White. She manages Euston Hardware in Prairie Village, Kan., where she has moved a display of her most popular ant products to the front of the store.

The odorous house ant, which many people call the sweet ant, has bad body odor. Squish one between your fingers and sniff. It smells like rancid, coconut suntan lotion. That smell is a defense mechanism, an alarm to alert other ants that something is amiss.

This stinky ant, native to North America and found from coast to coast, is living in a supercolony under you. It seems to like the Midwest and its comparatively moderate climate.