The strange smell of crushed Tapinoma sessile
The odorous house ant, according to the published literature, when crushed, gives off a smell somewhat like rotten coconut. I was out on my second day in the field today, putting time in so I can be certified by the State of California to identify pest species, do home and business inspections and, if called upon, perform the tasks of pest control — not that that’s what I’m going to be doing, but knowing how to do it should help me in my job. So there we were, me and a guy from my employer’s Rancho Cordova branch who trains a lot of new hires, with the hot sun beating down on us as we worked around several houses in suburban area east of Sacramento, just off the Highway 50 freeway.
By California law, as a not-yet-licensed employee of a pest control company, I can’t identify a pest or tell you what you can do to remedy the situation. But as a journalist, or at this point a guy with a computer keyboard who types stuff into his blog on a reasonably regular basis, I can report on what the other, licensed guy said, which was something along the lines of “This is an odorous house ant. Ever smelled one?” I confessed I’d read about them many times, but hadn’t yet caught a whiff of the rotted coconut.
“Go ahead, crush one, check it out,” he advised. I knelt down and pressed my fingers onto a concrete mowing strip that separated the backyard lawn from an overgrown garden. I raised my monster fingers, fresh with the smashed exoskeletons of several dead ants, to my nostrils and breathed in deeply, wondering if I’d perceive any aroma. Rotted coconut, it wasn’t; more like melted and decomposing Camp Fire Girl Mints sprayed with insect repellent or some kind of aerosolized sun block. It was a gnarly smell, but gnarly one or two on a scale of gnarly one to 10, with a 10 being the unforgettable fragrance of rotting human flesh. Not too bad, really; perhaps the next Kardashian sister or manufactured teen idol looking to pimp a new overpriced perfume can use a little eau de T. Sessile to give their witches’ brew that extra kick it will need in a crowded marketplace.
We’d been in the sun for a while, him recounting days of fighting the notorious Formosan subterranean termite while doing pest control in Hawaii, me looking for a shady spot where I wouldn’t wilt. Which I was, because essentially I am a big pussy, or an old dog who needs a big drink of water and a fresh hillbilly porch under which I can go lay in the dirt and collect a fresh crop of fleas. I have a newfound respect for those men and women who go out, five or six days a week, working pest control routes.
And, yeah, I look forward to the next time I get to do a day in the field. —Jackson Griffith