Larger Yellow Ant (Citronella)


Actual Size: 4 to 4.5 mm

Characteristics: Reddish-yellow to reddish-brown

Legs: 6

Antennae: Yes

Wings: Ant swarmers have two sets of wings.

Habitat: Builds nest outdoors in old logs, stumps, and underneath stones. In winter, will nest in homes behind bathtubs, shower walls, or in damp crawl spaces.


  • Also known as the citronella ant.
  • Homeowners often mistake larger yellow ants for termites.
  • Workers emit a distinct lemon-like odor when alarmed or crushed.

Larger Yellow Ants in Central and Eastern Virginia

The larger yellow ant is common in Virginia, and when disturbed, larger yellow ants release a compound that smells like citronella or lemon. Larger yellow ants are primarily nocturnal and are not generally seen during the day. These ants feed exclusively on the honeydew produced by aphids and mealybugs, with no record of them feeding on household foods. When these ants swarm, they can be mistaken for termites. Pest problems usually occur in the late summer and fall when mixed colonies of winged swarmers and wingless worker ants move toward buildings and try to enter through cracks or gaps in the foundation.

Larger Yellow Ant Habitat

Larger yellow ants nests are typically located in and around areas of high moisture. Outdoors, they can be found nesting in high moisture soil adjacent to structures, along foundation walls, under stumps, logs, or rocks. Indoors, these ants are sometimes found behind bathtub or shower walls or in damp crawl spaces, especially over winter. Mounds of dirt left behind by the colonies’ process of excavating tunnels can reach up to three feet in diameter. Temporary winter nests can be located in basements under a loose brick or board or in a crack in the wall or floor.

Larger Yellow Ant Behaviors, Threats, or Dangers

Larger yellow ants do not have a stinger, but can become a nuisance when the reproductives (winged ants) swarm indoors, or as workers dump soil from cracks in floors or basement walls. When swarming, homeowners often mistake these ants for termites or carpenter ants. Overwintering alates emerge from cracks and crevices in walls and floors from mid to late summer. As larger yellow ant alates swarm, homeowners may be alarmed by the large numbers of swarming ants that congregate on the side of homes and structures. The ants do not forage for food through the house and apparently cause very little damage except to create piles of dirt at the entrance to the nest. If a larger yellow ant issue is suspected, it is best to consult a professional ant exterminator.