The eternal enemy of picnickers, ants are a nuisance, plain and simple. Whether they’re invading your kitchen or your outdoor space, their sudden appearance may have left you wondering where they came from in the first place.
Ants have a strong sense of smell, which they use to find accessible food sources. As a general rule, ants are strongly attracted to smells from candy, sweet-scented foods, carbohydrates, sugary drinks, fruit-scented candles, meat, perfume, nuts, seeds, grease, oil fats, and dirty laundry.
Let’s take a look at some basic information about ants themselves (they’re quite interesting little creatures) so we know what makes them tick. Then, we’ll get into six types of aromas that are irresistible to ants. Let’s get to it!
What Kind of Ants Invade Homes?
There are an astounding number of species of ants in the world. In fact, there are over 10,000 different species of ants.
With over 10,000 species of ants, how will you ever know which kind is in your home? Luckily, there are only a few that are very common inside houses in North America. The top three are carpenter ants, odorous house ants, and pavement ants.
As a general rule, ants are able to lift 20 times their own body weight. The queen of the colony is responsible for all of the reproduction and can sometimes lay millions of eggs and live for many years.
Another relevant fact about ants is that they have four to five times more odor receptors than many other insects and are powerfully attracted to several scents.
Ants are social insects and travel in large groups, so it is no wonder why people worry about ants establishing residency in their homes and yards.
Why Do You Need to Keep Ants Out?
One of the biggest reasons to keep ants out of your home or garden is their sheer numbers. As we stated above, a queen lays millions of eggs during her lifetime. In addition, ants travel in large groups since they rely on each other for survival. An invasion of ants can quickly become overwhelming.
Let’s look at some of the other reasons to keep ants out:
- They can damage your lawn or garden: This is especially true when they’ve become invasive. Undoubtedly, you’ve seen many anthills in your lifetime. It certainly stands to reason that the more ants, the more anthills. Anthills, and the labyrinthine tunnels beneath them, can wreak havoc. They weaken the soil and make it hard for plants to grow.
- They bring along their nasty friends: Ants also carry or will attract other pests that are directly harmful to have in a garden, including aphids, mealybugs, and others.
- Some ants can feed on the wood of your home. Specifically, carpenter ants, a very common ant found in homes, feeds on damp wood in your house, and can eat away at your home.
Like most bugs, ants are unsanitary. When they find a smell that attracts them, they lay down a pheromone scent which then alerts other workers, which causes a domino effect: every one of them who comes into contact with the original aroma or the pheromone also lays it down.
If you’ve ever seen ants walking in a line and wonder how they do it, it’s because their pheromones tell them where to go.
As they move, they can carry bacteria and other microbes everywhere they crawl. Some good bacteria and microbes, and some bad that you don’t want inside. Indoors, ants can drag the sticky substances and dirt (in small amounts, of course) that are on their body through your home.
Over time, these substances will build up and can deteriorate areas of your home if not dealt with.
First off, if you have an ant infestation, take a look at our handy dandy guide for some of the top ant traps you can place in your home.
What Smells Attract Ants?
Now that we know all about ants and their potential impact on ourselves, our gardens, and our yards, let’s take a look at a few of the VERY specific types of smells that attract ants.
Note: Ants are opportunistic eaters, which means that they will eat whatever is available. This even includes other ants. However, there are certain foods that they like best.
Candy and Sweet Scented Foods
It’s no secret: Ants positively, absolutely love sugar.
You’ve no doubt seen the impact it has on them after dripping your ice cream cone on the ground or spilling a can of soda at a barbecue. Within minutes, there’s a long streak of ants lined up to carry it home.
Ants especially love melty or syrupy sugar. One of their favorite natural foods is honey. This is because it is easier for them to carry these thick liquids or semi-solids.
It isn’t just processed sugar, either. Ants also love fruit, especially very ripe fruit. Softer fruits such as melon, strawberries, and kiwi are their favorite.
That said, ants will take any kind of sugar they can get. Did you drop a hard candy on the ground? Ants will be on it in seconds, as they will with doughnuts, cakes, chocolate, juice, watermelon and much, much more.
You’re not even safe with artificial sweeteners. Just as they taste sweet to us, they smell sweet to ants, as well.
Carbs and Sweet Smelling Sugary Drinks
They may be the foe of fad-dieters, but ants love carbohydrates and starches besides straight sugar. Crackers, pasta, rice, oatmeal, bread, potatoes, corn: you name it, ants eat it.
They especially like their starches salted, so potato chips, corn chips, or any other salty snacks will be even more appealing to them.
One more starch that ants enjoy is alcohol, which is almost always very high in sugar as well. If friends get sloppy and spill or splash their drinks at your next outdoor (or indoor) party, you’re likely to find ants in those spots the next morning.
Food and Fruit Scented Candles
Due to their love for all things sweet, both fruit and food scented candles will attract ants to your area. Any candle that mimics sugar or even potentially a meal containing meat may be enough for an ant to come scout the area.
If your house is totally clean, chances are that the ant scout will report back to the colony with nothing. However, your floor probably has a crumb or two, and maybe even a sugary substance lying about.
Thus, the food or sweet scented candle will be the single to the ant scout to come investigate the area, and once they find an unrelated food source on your floor, they’ll report back to the colony that they’ve found a meal.
Sweet Smelling Perfume
Remember, ants LOVE sugar. They thrive off it, as do many insects in their scaled down world. Sugar provides them a quick and efficient food source with a jolt of energy due to the simple carbs involved.
Naturally, sweet smelling perfume will signal to ants that sugar is in the area AND attract them nearby. No, you won’t have ants crawling on you if you spray some sweet perfume, but they’ll certainly come by to investigate.
Raw or Cooked Meat
Just like us, ants need protein to survive; protein helps them expand as a colony. That is sometimes why you will see them feeding on a fallen brother: they desperately need the protein and that is the only source they can locate.
Therefore, when an ant encounters a source of protein, it’s going to plop its pheromones and start feasting. Their favorite sources of protein are animals, raw or cooked meat.
Nuts and Seeds
Similar to raw or cooked meat, ants are attracted to protein in nuts and the added fats that they provide. Ants are attracted to peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, cashews, macadamia nuts and just about any other type of fatty nut that they can find lying about!
Grease and Oil Fats
In addition to sugar, carbs, and protein, ants also need fat in their bodies. Therefore, they’re attracted to fats and grease. This is especially true of animal fats (which typically also contain protein) as well as plant oils, such as vegetable oil, peanut oil, or olive oil.
Finally, ants love fried food. It often combines three of their favorite things: fat (grease), sugar or carbohydrates (the breading), and meat!
One more note about ants and food: they aren’t just attracted to the food itself, but also food packaging. The smells and usually some crumbs get left behind on these items, and ants will find it and devour it.
Plants and Decaying Plant Matter
Ants don’t just eat foods—they also eat a variety of plants that humans grow for show. One of their favorites is peonies, which will also draw rabbits to your yard. According to the Heartland Peony Society, ants are more attracted to peony buds than open flowers and not all varieties of peonies invite ants.
Ants must be romantics at heart, because they love roses. What’s more, they don’t cause roses any harm; instead, ants and roses have a symbiotic relationship that far pre-dates human cultivation of this beautiful flower.
Not so with hostas. Sometimes called plantain lilies, these plants are popular in landscaping because they do well in the shade and are quite beautiful.
Unfortunately, ants do them harm when they come in contact with Hostas. They tend to damage the leaves and spread around plant disease. Some ants, such as carpenter ants, will even nest inside the plant stems which can weaken them. Ants will also carry sap-sucking bugs from the ground, such as aphids, to the hosta which can cause even more harm.
Keep in mind that ants will also eat decaying plant matter, so any plant life—indoor or outdoor—has the potential to attract ants if they aren’t well kept.
Dirty Clothes and Laundry Detergent
Remember here are lots of other non-food scents that will cause ants to come around.
Using vanilla-scented or other sweet smelling laundry detergent will draw ants nearby in search of food..
Speaking of laundry, ants like the smell of human urine and sweat (gross.)
That makes your laundry room a playground for ants, between the dirty clothes and sweet detergent. People often have an ant problem in this space of their home.
What Type of Habitat Do Ants Like?
Most ants are attracted to moisture. Like most animals, they need water to survive. That said, they prefer dampness to saturated spots.
Ants like warmth, which is why they can become more invasive indoors in the winter. They tend to be attracted to electronics because of the heat that they give off. If you have LED or solar-powered garden lighting, pay attention to whether these are attracting ants.
Most ants prefer the dark, although some, like carpenter ants, are also attracted to light sources.
Finally, although it may be obvious by this point, ants are most commonly found in poor sanitary conditions where there is often spilled food or other decaying matter. The more that you can do to prevent these conditions in your space, the fewer ants you’re likely to see.
How To Keep Ants Out of Your Home
In addition to using the smells that we just discussed above, there are some other ways to deter ants. A lot of it is routine maintenance, but it’s worth mentioning, nonetheless.
Let’s run through a quick list:
- Clean up spills as soon as they happen: basically, you want to beat that first ant from ever smelling the spilled substance and laying down their pheromones.
- Keep your space clean through routine maintenance: in addition to wiping down countertops every day and vacuuming or mopping your food preparation and eating spaces regularly, it’s not a bad idea to also spray down your outdoor patio space occasionally. In addition, do some extra cleaning after a gathering of any kind, just in case.
- Store food in tightly sealed containers and put it away in cupboards or closets: the more barriers you can create between an ant and food, the better. This includes fruits and vegetables that you might otherwise be inclined to store on the counter.
- Similarly, keep lids on trash cans and recycling receptacles. Do this both indoors and outside.
- Make sure that screens on doors and windows are in good repair and don’t have any holes. In addition, check the perimeter of your home, especially doors and windows for cracks in sealant. After all, ants are tiny and can gain entry through extremely small spaces.
Are Ants Bad for Your Garden?
No one wants ants inside their home, but what about outside? Are ants good for gardens and lawns?
You might be surprised to learn that, in moderate or small numbers, ants are part of a healthy ecosystem. This is even true in a lawn or backyard garden. The tunnels that they dig help bring air into the soil, which also helps with proper disbursement of water.
They can also help fertilize the soil because they feed on and aid in the decomposition of leaves and other dead plant matter. Some types of ants have even been known to pollinate plants, a crucial part of the life cycle.
The key here, though, is small or moderate numbers of ants. Too many ants, and you can have a disastrous situation on your hands. Let’s look at why.
Wrapping it Up!
If you came here because you can’t seem to get rid of the ants invading your life, hopefully, you now know why. The bottom line is that so many smells attract ants. In fact, it’s impossible to eliminate all of the ant-attracting aromas from your space, but you can do your absolute best to minimize the scents.
Happy ant repelling!
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