Skip to Content

Why Do Ants Smell Like Ink?

Why Do Ants Smell Like Ink?

Share this post:

This post may contain affiliate links. If you click one of these links and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you. In addition, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Ants are some of the most common insects that you will find around your house. When you go out in the garden, you will see plenty of ants walking in single file from one place to another.

First of all, you need to understand that there are several different varieties of ants. There are the fire ants, which are known for making bridges out of their bodies and moving from one place to another.

The fire ants are even capable of floating on water by joining their bodies together to form “rafts.” However, you probably won’t find fire ants in your garden that frequently.

The most common ant that you will find is probably the carpenter ant or the odorous house ant. The carpenter ants are of a serious concern to homeowners because they can cause serious structural damage to your property.

They will actually excavate wood and cause serious damage to your property if you are not careful. They like to feed on aphids, which produce honeydew and are commonly found in houses.

The carpenter ants are not just going to feed on the wood, but they will also start trails into what are known as “foraging arenas.”

Then, you have the odorous house ants. Known often as the “nuisance ant,” the house ant is what smells like ink. These ants usually make small colonies, which often contain many queens and also have various homes.

However, unlike the carpenter ants, the homes made by the odorous house ant are generally temporary. You will find them under some debris or a piece of wood. Basically, wherever they can find a ready supply of food and shelter, they’ll make their home.

The Smell

Before we talk about the odorous house ant, it’s important to understand why these ants smell like ink. This is primarily due to the fact that they give off a smell known as formic acid.

Also known as methanoic acid, this is perhaps the simplest carboxylic acid and is naturally found in certain types of ants. While it is also produced in labs, the natural availability of this acid means that it is used for many different purposes.

Formic acid is perhaps most commonly used as a preservative and as an antibacterial agent in feed developed for livestock. It is also applied on fresh hay and it makes fermentation quicker too.

Other uses of formic acid are in the production of leather, and it can be used for dyeing and processing textiles. Most notably, formic acid is found in plenty of household cleaning products.

Toilet bowl cleaners and limescale removers both use formic acid.

Many naturalists and alchemists were actually aware of the smell given off by ants as far back as the 15th century. John Ray, a naturalist by profession, actually wrote the first description of the smell given off by ants in 1671.

He isolated the substance by distilling a large number of house ants, showing that the ants secreted the substance to attack or defend themselves. In the beginning, it was only considered of minor importance, but its uses began to grow.

Some say that the odorous house ant releases a smell that closely resembles a rotten coconut when it is squished, and in large amounts, this smell can prove to be quite disgusting.

Odorous Ants

The odorous ant is found throughout the United States, and is of particular concern to homeowners. It often causes a serious pest problem in parts of the West Coast and the Atlantic Coast.

These ants have a brown to black colored body, and their antennae usually have 12 segments. During the day, the females tend to lay just a single egg on a daily basis.

On average, it takes around 24 days for a newborn ant to turn into an adult. This might seem fairly manageable to most people, but you have to consider the fact that these ants have colony sizes ranging from a mere 100 to 100,000 ants.

The larger colonies obviously have various queens that are all active, and this could prove to be a serious problem for homeowners who do not pay close attention to the ant infestation.

Their nests can be found in a wide array of different situations, and it’s usually going to be difficult for you to figure out where they exist primarily. They can easily make their nests in small pockets in your wall, especially the space between the insulation and the interior wall.

They also like to make their nests near water heaters and pipes, and on the outside, you will find them near the exposed soil, usually under a stone walk or a board. They also like to build nests on the bark of a tree, as it allows them to move conveniently.

Some house ants also make their nests inside a bird’s nest. Basically, if they can find a place that offers even a little bit of warmth, these ants are likely to make their nests on it.

If you have a nest of 10,000 house ants, and there are 8,000 females in them, with each laying a single egg a day, you are essentially looking at 8,000 new house ants entering your house daily.

That’s a significant number, so you have to take serious action to get rid of the infestation as quickly as possible. When you consider the terrible smell that is produced by these ants, you will automatically be forced to act quickly.

There are several things that you can do to get rid of the ant infestation.

Call an Expert

If you don’t know anything about dealing with a pest infestation and this is the first major one that you have encountered, it might be a wise idea to call a pest control company. You can easily search for local pest control businesses and get in touch with them to schedule an appointment.

The exterminators are going to carefully inspect the property to determine all of the nests, and then take remedial action to get rid of the problem.

Obviously, you can’t expect the infestation to end overnight. The pest control company will apply the pesticide over several days to completely get rid of the problem.


There are plenty of non-repellent insecticides that you can buy in the market, and the best thing to do would be to spray the perimeter of the outside with it. You should apply the insecticide as generously as possible around the base of the foundation too.

When you apply the insecticide, one of the effects will be that the major colonies will spread apart, and they will scatter. It’s important for you to make sure that you use some ant bait to completely get rid of the infestation.

These ants won’t really bother you or come in your way, or destroy your life like bed bugs would. But, they are going to cause a lot of difficulty with the terrible smell that they produce.

These are just a few things that you should know about why odorous house ants smell like ink, and what you can do to deal with the problem. As long as you are careful and maintain good hygiene, you won’t have much to worry about.

Share this post: