Citronella ants are common nuisance pests outdoors and indoors that are widely distributed in a few states of America and engage in irritating activities.
What Do Citronella Ants Look Like? Citronella ants have reddish brown to dark brown body color, but their workers appear brownish yellow. They are only 3 to 5mm in size and are known for their citronella-like odor. They look like termites due to similar physical features and habitats. They build nests in crawl spaces, wooden logs, soil under large stones or rocks, and other moist landscapes.
They are not poisonous and it is essential to know their distinctive to identify them correctly, as many people cannot differentiate between different species of ants.
Treating the infestation without correct identification becomes difficult, as it can lead to poor control of the ant population with undesired results.
How do you identify a citronella ant?
Citronella ants are insects commonly present outdoors and infest moist areas because they like high moisture areas.
You can identify this species of ants by their distinct body color, as they appear dark brown or reddish brown in color. The workers have a lighter color and appear brownish-yellow.
One of their characteristic features is the citronella-like smell, which makes them different from other species. They produce a lemon-like scent when crushed into pieces under feet.
They are a serious nuisance in the spring season when swarmers leave the nest and come out for mating with male partners in the air.
You can identify these winged insects by their particular odor or physical appearance. Moreover, their bodies are covered with tiny hair and six small segmented legs.
They have a pair of antennae on their head, divided into 12 segments, and the last segment is larger than the others. Soil mounds around nests are signs of their infestation in open areas.
Appearance and size of citronella ants
Citronella ants are large insects known as large yellow ants for their body size and appearance. Their workers are only 3 to 5mm long, while others are larger.
The queens are the biggest members of the colony and reach almost 7 to 8mm when they become adults. Their bodies are bigger due to larger abdomens that hold a large number of eggs.
Moreover, the male drones are a few millimeters smaller than the queens and are almost 4 to 5mm long. These winged and reproductive ants are bigger than foragers, soldiers, and larvae.
They weigh almost 3 to 4mg, while queens and drones are slightly heavier insects and reach around 4 to 7mg on the weighing scale.
Their size can vary from this average limit if the conditions are not ideal and they suffer from lack of food, loss of shelter, or risk of predators.
Accordingly, these environmental changes directly impact their body size and weight because they cannot reach their ideal weight and size until they receive good nutrition and proper care.
Is it a termite or a citronella ant?
Many people cannot differentiate between citronella ants and termites because both of these insects look alike up to a maximum extent.
They are commonly found in the Eastern US, where people consider them termites due to physical and behavioral similarities.
Accordingly, citronella ant colonies swarm around moist places like termites and prefer to stay around wet or rotten wood.
They infest wood infested by termites because their teeth are not strong enough to chew the wood and make tunnels in the dry or non-infested wood.
Moreover, both have wings on their bodies and are equal in size, which can give rise to confusion among the people. Termites are more damaging as they can cause significant structural destruction.
It can be challenging to find the minor differences like they have elbowed or bent antennae, while termites have beaded one.
The size of their wings differs as termites have wings that are two times larger than their bodies, and all of them are equal in length, unlike these large yellow ants.
In addition, the wing structure also varies as termites have no visible veins in their wings. The termites do not possess narrow waists; their bodies have only two segments.
Where are citronella ants found?
Citronella ants are commonly present in the soil as these insects build nests deep under the ground and make tunnels in the soil by displacing it with their body.
They can also infest the wet wooden logs or landscape timbers already infested with termites or carpenter ants, which can help avoid the struggle of making tunnels.
Moreover, they are also present close to the foundations of the building and hide under the mulch. Their colonies can easily adjust under the concrete slabs on the floor and larger stones.
I found them living in a crawl space at my home due to moisture, as the standing water is usually there in my crawl space area.
It is commonly found in Florida, New England, Mexico, Pacific Northwest, and other areas where they find ideal conditions.
Furthermore, you can find them living in areas providing moisture and warmth, which are basic requirements of these tiny insects to choose their habitat.
How big is a citronella ant colony?
Citronella ants do not have massive colonies like army ants, as their nest contains only a few hundred insects that live a coordinated life together.
These members cooperate as they have common goals of protecting the colony from attacks and ensuring its survival.
Their colony size can increase to several hundred insects in breeding season when the queens begin to lay a large number of eggs to sustain the colony.
Accordingly, you can estimate the size of their colonies to be around 200 to 2000 or slightly more than this as their number keeps varying at different times of the year.
Their nest population increases in spring or early summer and declines in late summer due to the death of drones. Moreover, the winged females also start their colonies after mating.
Their colonies are not polymorphic and have one queen only. So, their size keeps changing according to the reproduction rate, and population size is controlled by one queen.
Furthermore, the worker population remains in the nest during the late summer, but their colonies can easily manage to sustain for almost 18 to 20 years.
What do citronella ants eat?
Citronella ants prefer to consume natural foods in their habitat and avoid consuming human foods, like bread, flavorful dishes, fruits, and other types.
They do not explore human food and are not attracted to the amazing aroma of food from the kitchen, as they only eat insects and obtain honeydew from aphids.
Moreover, they capture small insects from the lawn and other plant pests for nutrition and enjoy eating their meat after hunting.
They mutually associate with aphids living on the plants in the garden and support them for growth to maintain a continuous source of food for themselves.
This relationship benefits both insects as they get honeydew secretions as food, but their association can be deadly for the plant due to the uncontrolled growth of plant pests.
In addition, they feed on plant roots and suck nutrients from the sap, making plants deficient in essential nutrients. This way, they care for their diet and avoid sugary manmade foods.