With spring just around the corner, there’s lots to look forward to, like longer days, a change in weather and spring blooms. One thing you may not look forward to is the arrival of bugs and pests due to the warmer weather.

A particularly bothersome and common pest in the region is the odorous house ant (OHA), which is not only a nuisance, but they can also be difficult to get rid of.

“These small black ants are usually referred to as a sugar ant, but odorous house ants smell when under attack or crushed. People can easily identify them by crushing them and if they get a bad vinegar smell, call a professional in the area,” advises Robert Sherwood, Director of Operations at Rambo Total Pest Control.

OHA under scope
A close up image of an odorous house ant. Photo courtesy: Rambo Total Pest Control

Most calls for OHA occur between March and September, but in recent years, the team says they’ve started receiving calls in January when there’s a warm stretch of weather and the pests begin moving again. Besides getting calls much earlier now, the business also sees more calls for OHA.

“When I got my start in this business in 2001, carpenter ants were more common and now odorous house ant calls outnumber carpenter ant calls three to one,” says owner Luke Rambo.

Luke went on to say that the uptick in OHA infestations has a lot to do with the shifting climate, as the ant’s sensitivity to treatment methods and this particular species’ overall adaptability.

“They’re proven to be extremely adaptable, and the way their colonies work creates a challenging and complex control issue.”

One of those challenges is that they’re chemically sensitive. Because of this sensitivity, the professional team at Rambo Total Pest Control recommends not treating the ants yourself.

Luke says using repellent materials such as store-bought chemical sprays, household cleaners, or even essential oils can cause the ants to move their nesting sites to different parts of the house or yard. Since most ant sprays or other forms of repellents only work on the ants you see, not the ones in the colony. After a spray or repellent treatment has occurred, the colony will then send out new forager ants to investigate. Those ants sense the threat in the treated area and return to the colony and communicate the risk. After this communication takes place, the colony will split, or shatter, into multiple colonies as a survival tactic.

OHA ant bait
The company’s method for indoor treatment is mostly focused on a bait system, rather than potentially harmful chemical sprays. Photo courtesy: Rambo Total Pest Control

“Once the shatter scenario takes place, control measures become more difficult, and that’s something people don’t realize,” Luke says.

Another factor that makes treating them yourself difficult is the mobility of this type of ant.

“When it comes to control, another problem home owners aren’t ready for is how mobile these colonies can be,” Robert adds. “Most people think of them as building a ground nest outside, but odorous house ants are able to nest anywhere indoors or outdoors and relocate throughout the season.”

And yet another thing that makes this type of ant so tricky to treat is their ability to reproduce – OHA have multiple egg-laying queens, and multiple colonies can to work together.

“The colonies don’t feud with each other, and are good at keeping out other colonies so they become the primary ant in an area,” Robert says.

While the treatment method Rambo Total Pest Control uses is effective, it’s not hazardous to people or to their pets inside the home. Luke and Robert say it’s rare that the company has to spray anything inside the house to treat these ants. Instead, their method for indoor treatment is mostly focused on a bait system and the primary bait used is classified by the EPA as a reduced risk product. The bait attracts the ants, then after the ants have ingested the bait, it reacts to certain enzymes found only in ants, not mammals.

OHA in web
Odorous ant infestations can occur both indoors and outdoors. Photo courtesy: Rambo Total Pest Control

Luke and Robert both say the professional team is anticipating an extremely busy spring and summer due to our mild winter. They both advocate that the key when dealing with an active ant season is to prevent future issues, and take active measures to avoid those issues.

“Controlling them and making progress is great, but we also want people thinking ahead, and we educate customers on how to look out for future outbreaks,” Luke says.

Rambo Total Pest Control is located at 4227 South Meridian, Suite C-120, in Puyallup. Learn more on their website, by calling their office at 253-848-6000, or by visiting them on Facebook.

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