Everything to know about citronella ants

Citronella ants are one of the most unusual pests that homeowners and business owners in the Northeast may encounter. When threatened or stepped on, these small yellow ants emit a lemon-like scent, hence the name citronella ant.

Citronella ants are named after the lemon verbena or citronella odor they emit when threatened. When the ants are crushed, it is most visible.

They are subterranean insects that feed on the honeydew (excretions) of aphids and mealybugs that feed on shrub roots.

These uncommon pecks known as citronella ants feed on honeydew excreted by aphids. Their nests can be found in:

The winged ants are most commonly seen in New England homes where there are the colonies’ swarmers.

Swarmers are so-called because they leave their colonies to find and reproduce in other colonies.

citronella ant

Worker citronella ants, the smaller of the two, remain in the colony and are rarely seen by homeowners.

Typically, colonies mound up the soil around their entrance opening in the same way that other ants do.

You should hire a professional pest control company to complete this task because many pesticides are not intended for use by the general public and licensed professionals will have the necessary tools.

Citronella ants can be a major nuisance both inside and outside the home when they begin to swarm in the spring.

Even though they will not reproduce or damage anything inside a home, they can enter through cracks in doorways or windows, scaring homeowners who misidentify them as termites.

They can also establish colonies beneath crawl spaces in homes or concrete slabs. If this is the case, you should seek the assistance of a professional pest control company.

Little is known about these subterranean colonies’ inner workings. The ants are thought to care for aphids in the same way that dairy farmers care for cows, collecting the honeydew they excrete.

They have not been observed foraging for other food sources. Open woods, pastures and fallow fields, gardens, lawns, and next-to-house foundations are all possible nesting locations.

Some colonies are also found beneath concrete slabs and large rocks, as well as in and beneath rotting logs.

How will I know if I have a citronella ant infestation?

Yellow ants commonly leave soil mounds around their nest openings. A yellow ant infestation is indicated by the presence of these mounds and openings near building foundations, in gardens or lawns, or under yard debris.

The presence of swarming alates indicates the presence of an established colony of yellow ants nearby.

The presence of a large number of ants, particularly foraging workers and swarms of winged reproductives, is the most likely indication of an infestation. Another sign could be seeing the earth move from cracks in concrete.

When winged ants leave colonies to mate, citronella ants can be a nuisance. Winged ants that emerge from a crack in the slab or basement can be extremely dangerous to the homeowner. The majority of the time, these ants will not cause any harm. 

Pro Tip: The most effective way to get rid of these ants is with a vacuum cleaner.

Managing Citronella Ants

The swarming citronella ants that fly to mate resemble termites at first glance. They can even have a reddish-brown color.

They are about 1/4-inch-long at this stage about the size of termites. Another reason they are frequently misidentified as termites are their proclivity to push up the soil as they move through the ground in lawns or gardens.

The smell is an important way to tell them apart from termites. They also have distinctive antennae with 12 segments. The first segment only gets to the head.

It’s important to understand what you are dealing with because it will make it easier to get rid of in the longer run.

Citronella ants should only be regarded as a nuisance pest species. Unless swarmers enter through expansion cracks in slabs or around door openings, they usually go unnoticed.

Although these intrusions may cause concern among homeowners, the ants do not reproduce within the home and do not attack stored goods or structures. 

Swarms may occur repeatedly in some cases. As a result, efforts should be made to locate the colony or colonies. Around the openings where excavated soil is deposited, colonies typically have mounds of soil.

Insecticides can be injected into the holes to treat these mounds. Despite the fact that many insecticides are labeled for ant control, many of them can only be used by licensed individuals.

As a result, a professional pest control company should be contacted because they have access to specialized application equipment and can use materials not available to the general public.

Underground colonies can be found on your lawn or garden. Alternatively, they could be in pastures, fallow fields, or open woods.

Rotting logs provide another type of habitat for these heinous insects. The colonies can sometimes be found very close to buildings, right next to foundations, and under concrete slabs.

The soil around the colonies’ entrances can give you an idea of where they are. Though a way to get rid of the ant colonies at home can include:


This method is the most effective, safest, and quickest method of removing a swarm.

Meanwhile, the experts will ensure that they are dealing with ants rather than termites. One way to confirm this is to crush one of them and taste it for lemon flavor.


They are yet another method of removing nests. While removing the inner infestations, make sure to plug all of the water leaks that initially provided the moisture that attracted these ants to your home.

Also, caulk all of the small cracks and move the firewood storage away from the interior of the house.

Is there a queen in the colonies?

Understanding what goes on in the colonies helps you better understand have to get rid of them and understand what their next move might be.

Within the nest, a queen produces new workers as well as winged males and females known as swarmers on a regular basis. These winged individuals leave the nest to mate.

Males die soon after, while mated females go on to become founding queens for new colonies.

The worker citronella ants then nurture and feed the ant larvae until they reach the pupa stage. The developed ant will produce worker ants and the cycle will be repeated.

Citronella ants are definitely a nuisance pest, but they are rarely seen unless they manifest as Swarmers that enter the house through cracks and door openings.

Though this is concerning for homeowners, one benefit is that these ants do not reproduce inside homes, forage on food supplies, or attack structures.

When such swarms occur frequently, you should look for mounds of excavated soil to locate the colonies.

You can try injecting insecticides through the mound’s holes to treat these mounds. Choose your insecticides with caution, as many of them are only available to licensed pest control agents.

The two types of citronella ants

The larger yellow ant (L Interjectus) 

The larger yellow ant is the one that you are most likely to encounter in Pennsylvania homes.

The worker ant’s length is 4 to 4.5 mm, and its antennae are made up of 12 segments, with the scape (the first segment of the antennae) almost touching the top of its head. One node at the pedicel connects the abdomen and the thorax.

Thin, erect hairs cover the top of the thorax, abdomen, and head. When smashed, they emit a strong lemon scent, hence the name citronella ants. The queens are nearly 8 mm long.

Swarmer (winged) ants 

Swarmer (winged) ants are more or less double the size of the worker ants. Worker ants and their wings are a dark smoke color.

These ants, like worker ants, range in color from mild reddish brown to mild yellow. Aside from size, there is little difference between small yellow ants and large yellow ants.


Citronella ants are usually solitary, tending to aphids and mealybugs on plant roots.

They do, however, swarm in large numbers all year. During this process, they frequently enter houses and are frequently misidentified as termites. There are several methods for distinguishing citronella ants from termites, and you can often solve the problem by vacuuming them up.

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