Why Do Ants Smell Like Ink? (And Ways to Get Rid of Them)

Ants are common insects found around houses and it’s easy to spot colonies of ants walking in a single file in a garden.

There are different species of ants, such as the fire ants, commonly known for making bridges out of their bodies to move from one place to another.

But most people have asked this question a couple of times—why do ants smell like ink? In this post, we will answer this question and other related ones.

Why Do Ants Smell Like Ink When You Kill Them?

Ants give a formic acid smell, which is also known as methanoic acid, is the most accessible carboxylic acid and the most common in different ants. The acid is also manufactured in labs and has numerous benefits.

In livestock feeds, formic acid is mainly utilized as a preservative and as an antibacterial. And in the hay, it’s used to quicken fermentation.

Formic acid is also used to produce leather, dye, fabrics, and many cleaning products.

The smell produced by ants was discovered in the 15th century by naturalists and alchemists. John Ray (a naturalist) was the first person to write about the odor in 1671.

To prove his discoveries, John Ray distilled numerous house ants and isolated the substance—in return, the ants secreted chemicals. At first, people regarded the chemicals as no use but learned of their use with time.

Some say the odor released by house ants is similar to that of a squished rotting coconut—the smell is very disgusting when in large amounts.

Do Dead Ants Attract More Ants?

Yes, dead ants attract other ants, so when ants die, they release pheromones that signal ants in the area of danger.

While it’s a signal for danger, it doesn’t mean this will scare the ants off. Ants are intelligent creatures and will investigate the death of their hive member before carrying them off and moving to a different location, if and when necessary. 

See also  Are Ants Attracted to Urine? (And How to Keep Them Away)

If you kill an ant, you can get in trouble once its hive friends show up. But lucky for you, ants will mostly see you as a threat and free from the place. Plus, if there’s a species of ants you should worry about is the fire ants.

Do Ants Give Off Smells?

The most common species of ants in the East Coast and Midwest found in homes is the tapinoma sessile, also known as an odorous house ant. When crushed, pheromone (smells like blue cheese) is released.

The penicillium mold also releases the chemical on rotting coconuts—giving blue cheese its unique pungent smell.

However, that’s not the only chemical odor ants produce. Carpenter ants spray formic acid, a burning chemical that smells similar to vinegar, gasoline, and urine when they feel threatened.

Citronella ants are known for the unique citrusy smell they release. Trap jaw ants produce a chocolatey smell when crushed. However, if an ant dies of natural causes, and oleic acid smell (similar to olive oil) is produced.

Most ants release these odors as a defense mechanism to keep off predators and prey. The blue cheese smell is an unpleasant odor that acts as an alerting pheromone for other ants.

Do Ants Smell Bad?

Yes, ants smell bad after they release a chemical when they die. Ants release an olive-like odor when they die of natural death and release chemicals when they sense danger. If produced in large doses, formic acid can even chase off bears.

The smells discussed here released by ants are just a small fraction of odors produced by these tiny creatures. Ants are more sensitive to smells than humans as they smell through their antennas(covered in chemical receptors), making it easy for them to communicate.

Have you ever wondered where the smell produced from ants comes from? Well, this smell comes from pheromones, which is a chemical signal produced by animals.

Ants feature many glands in their bodies that produce this chemical (pheromones) which they (ants) use to alarm, leave scent traces on food, identify their colony members, or distinguish intruders who may have come to harm them.

In short, the smell produced by ants plays a significant role (even though they may be a bad smell to you.)

Why Do Smashed Ants Smell Like Gasoline?

People are used to interpreting the environment by filtering their personal experience and this is why ants may smell like gasoline to people. However, you also have to note that the smell coming from smashed ants could trigger mixed reactions from different people—with some liking it, while others hating it.

See also  Are Mineral Spirits Flammable? (And Various Uses of it?)

Formica is Latin for ant, and that’s where the name originated from. The most common defense mechanism in the subfamily Formicinae against predators, enemies and, preys is formic acid.

Ants produce chemicals through glands similar to those that release venom in stinging bees and wasps. However, in Formicinae, the glands are more extensive. Unlike stinging creatures, ants spray the acids on their prey.

To attack big animals, they first open a small wound by biting them then spraying formic acid into the wound, which causes sharp stinging pain, irritation, and blistering.

And this is what differentiates them from fire ants (members of Myrmicinae) which sting directly. Examples of formicine ants are wood ants, crazy ants, weaver ants, and carpenter ants.

Why Do Ants Smell Like Chemicals When You Kill Them?

They smell like chemicals because they’re leaking juices produced in their bodies. You’ll notice similar smells in rotting foods as penicillin molds grow to break it down.

However, it takes numerous ants to produce enough unpleasant fluids to ward off creatures.

All it takes is a small number of methyl ketones or formic acid to make a big bad smell. That’s why it’s so effective and acts as an attack, defense, and a signal to their colony.

Like baby scorpions have more toxic stings, tiny ants have to use large quantities of chemicals to attack.

8 Clever Ways To Get Rid of Ants at Home

1. Use White vinegar

Mix an equal amount of water and vinegar or white vinegar to wipe them up. White vinegar not only kills ants but also keeps them off. We recommend using diluted vinegar to clean hard surfaces such as floors and countertops. As the vinegar dries off, it becomes discernible though it still affects ants as they can still smell it.

2. Try Boiling Water

Pour hot water in anthills if you notice them around your home—the boiling water kills them instantly. Though anthills seem small, the ant colonies beneath them are vast, meaning it will take lots of hot water to kill them off.

3. Leverage Cornstarch

Another option is to pour maize flour on the ants then pour water. This will result in the messy death of lots of ants covered in cornstarch. Alternatively, you can vacuum them up after pouring the cornstarch on them and immediately dispose of the vacuum bag.

4. Use Neem Oil

Neem oil is a native Indian oil extracted from neem trees. When used in large amounts, it can repel ants from entering your home. But don’t expect products containing neem and diluted neem to have a substantial effect like pure neem.

See also  Can Ants Eat Through Plastic? (And Smell Food?)

5. Coffee Grounds Could Help

Coffee grounds act as ant repellants—for the coffee grounds to take effect, you should brew coffee first. Transfer some coffee grounds and get them to those areas where ants are more likely to invade. Leave them on windowsills, too though you’ll have to change them often as they lose their strength.

6. Eliminate Food Sources

Getting rid of the source, such as like sweets, sugar, honey, and cornmeal is the best way to keep off ants—making sure that any food is kept away from their reach. That said, make sure that you have sealed food containers and plastic bags tightly.

7. Find their Pathways and Block

Sealing every nook and cranny is next to impossible but fill or repel cracks in walls and holes near floorboards or radiators; look for rips in window screens and mend them up. If you’re inexperienced with this, reach out to professionals to assist.

8. Try Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

Lemon eucalyptus oil is a natural bug repellent that contains citronella used in the production of candles to keep off flying bugs like mosquitoes. Some unreliable evidence states it acts as an ant repellant.

Note that Eucalyptus oil isn’t for human consumption, so keep it out of reach of children or pets. To use the oil, saturate a cotton ball with undiluted eucalyptus oil and put in places you’ve seen ants, and change the cotton balls weekly.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the Smell When You Kill an Ant?

Ants, especially the coconut ants will produce the rancid coconut smell when you kill them. This smell is always released to alert the other ants of danger.

2. Why Do Ants Give Off a Chemical Smell?

Ants give off this chemical smell to symbolize many things, such as defense, identifying intruders, notifying the other colony members of danger or communicating amongst themselves.

3. What Happens When You Squish an Ant?

When you squish an ant, they’ll release pheromones, which will attract other ants. Usually, this chemical (pheromone) is released to warn the other colony member of impending danger.

4. Why Should We Not Squish Ants?

Ants are creatures, just like you and they don’t like to be squished either. Humanely, it’s against God’s will to squish an ant or any other creature. And this is where the question of animal equality comes in—are there more superior animals than others?

About Sarah Walker

Sarah is a homemaker and is passionate about fixing little things in and around her house. She loves to do DIY hacks and keeps on writing about those things in her blog. When she is not writing, she keeps herself busy with her twins Cathy and Mickey.