A current TikTok spurred an uncommon debate throughout social media: Do ants scent dangerous?
The video that began the controversy started innocently sufficient. The creator merely requested whether or not different folks can scent the disgusting scent of lifeless ants on the sidewalk. In feedback and replies, many agreed that they might, whereas others—a far bigger variety of folks, it appears—had no concept that ants gave off a scent, even vehemently denying the concept. When you’re within the group that doesn’t know what ants scent like, likelihood is you simply haven’t paid sufficient consideration to a few of your tiniest native residents.
Many widespread species of ants launch pungent smells when they’re at risk, squished, or in any other case lifeless, in keeping with Clint Penick, an assistant professor at Kennesaw State College and ant researcher. The commonest sort of ant that folks discover of their properties on the East Coast and within the Midwest is named the odorous home ant, and when squished, it releases a pheromone that smells like blue cheese. This odorous chemical belongs to a bunch of chemical compounds known as methyl ketones. It’s additionally produced by the Penicillium mould that grows on rotting coconuts and it’s what provides blue cheese its distinctive, pungent odor.
However that’s removed from the one smelly compound ants produce. Some species, together with carpenter ants, spray formic acid, a caustic chemical that smells so much like vinegar, after they really feel threatened. (Some folks assume that the power to scent formic acid is genetic, like asparagus, and that is perhaps why some individuals are extra delicate to this explicit ant scent than others.) Citronella ants are named for the distinctive citrusy scent they typically produce, and trap-jaw ants launch a chocolatey scent when squished. When ants die of pure causes, additionally they launch oleic acid, so lifeless ants “scent just a little one thing like olive oil,” Penick says.
In most species of ants, these smelly chemical compounds are produced as a protection mechanism to beat back predators. “Many of the widespread ones, just like the blue cheese scent, are to make the ants distasteful, and features perhaps as an alarm pheromone to let different ants know that there’s hazard close by,” says Penick. “The citronella one is identical, it wards off predators. Formic acid actually burns you. In excessive doses, formic acid-producing ants may even chase off bears.”
However these robust odors solely embody a small fraction of all of the scents that ants produce. Ants scent utilizing their antennae, that are lined in chemical receptors, and are much more delicate to scents than people. They use this talent to speak with each other.
“They’ve a whole language that’s constructed out of smells,” says Penick.
Pheromones, chemical indicators (like those who create that blue cheese scent) that animals produce, type the inspiration for this language of smells in ants. The critters have dozens of glands on their our bodies the place they produce totally different mixtures of pheromones that they then use to ship alarm indicators, depart scent trails to meals sources, point out the standard of these meals sources, establish members of their colony or intruders from different packs, distinguish between the queen and employee ants, and numerous different causes.
With all these diverse, helpful odors that ants produce, likelihood is you don’t know what they scent like due to a scarcity of curiosity, Penick says. Maybe you don’t have the gene that lets you scent formic acid, nevertheless it’s extra probably that you just’ve simply by no means taken the time to smell your little neighbors.
“As an alternative of worrying a lot about the right way to do away with them, spend a while listening to them. There’s wildlife that’s dwelling in your home,” says Penick. “It is a nice time for us to sit down down and discover the biodiversity in our personal homes.”