Odorous house ants are native to North America and they can be found in most states as well as in Mexico and Canada. Odorous house ants are considered insect pests that will eat just about anything when they are indoors. However, these ants often gravitate toward sweet-tasting treats. When odorous house ants are outdoors, they feed on flower nectar and the honeydew secreted by aphids. These ants are best controlled with bait traps, but they are quite numerous within the United States, so it is not necessarily uncommon to find these ants within homes. Anyone who lives in the US has probably seen odorous house ants multiple times, as they are one of the most common ant species inhabiting the US. Much like their common name suggests, odorous ants emit a strong smell that has long been described as smelling like coconuts. However, a researcher is hoping to revise this aspect of odorous house ants, as he believes that the ants do not smell anything like coconuts; instead, the ants, he claims, smell like blue cheese.

Clint Penick is a postdoctoral researcher at the North Carolina State University and most of his work is focused on ants. Penick has always been fascinated by the ability to discern ant species through smell alone. However, Penick takes issue with the claim that odorous house ants smell like coconuts, as he believes they smell more like blue cheese. In fact, Penick is hoping to change this claim, which can be found in many textbooks. Penick recently published a study in American Entomologist called “The True Odor of the Odorous House Ant”. Penick had always heard that odorous house ants smell like coconuts, but since he earned his bachelor’s degree in the arid southwest where odorous house ants do not exist, Penick could not find any specimens to smell. But once he moved to North Carolina he had no problem finding specimens to smell. After insisting that the ants smell like blue cheese, he put together a study that surveyed numerous people concerning what the ants smell like. As it turns out, Penick might be on to something, as almost every individual surveyed also claimed that the ants smelled like blue cheese. Odorous house ants may smell different to different people, but for Penick’s sake, just tell people that the ants smell like blue cheese.

Have you ever smelled an odorous house ant?