Ghost Ants Scientific Name: Tapinoma melanocephalum
Ghost Ant Facts
Sort of sounds like the title of the next big horror film, doesn’t it? If the film were scientifically accurate, however, it wouldn’t be a very exciting one, although the Ghost ant has also been called the “corpse ant” from time to time due to its odor. The Ghost ant gets its name from the pale milky white color of its gaster and legs. In fact, if a Ghost ant scuttles by quickly these parts can’t be seen at all: the dark head and thorax seem to be floating on its tiny body. That is a little ghostly, but the similarities end there. Worker ants may emit an acrid, coconut-like odor which is especially evident when the ant is crushed. A tiny ant, the Ghost ant is between 1/20 and 1/14 of an inch long. It has one petioler segment, four segments of gaster visible from above, and no stinger.
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Ghost Ant Habitat and Food Source
The Ghost ant is a tropical species, found in most tropical and subtropical latitudes in the U.S., Puerto Rico, the Caribbean Islands, but is found throughout the world.
These ants nest readily indoors and outdoors and habits are similar to the Pharaoh ant. Colonies are moderate to large in size and may contain several Queen ants. Ghost ant colonies may contain bits of dead but moist grass and plant stems. Nests are typically found in cavities of decaying plant matter under loose bark, under rocks or other objects on the ground, and even in flowerpots. Indoors, the Ghost ant is a serious pest, nesting in small cracks or voids in ceilings and walls, potted plants, between cabinetry and baseboards, and even between books. Ghost ants indoors are most commonly seen in kitchens and bathrooms near moist areas like the sink, counter, floors, and bathtub. Worker ants form trails as they carry food to their nesting sites.
The Ghost ant’s diet consists mainly of sweets but they also feed on grease and sometimes on dead or living insects. Preferring moist climates this ant is mostly found outdoors but will readily nest inside as well, particularly if food sources are plentiful.
Ghost Ant Life Cycle
New colonies of the Ghost ant are started by a process known as “budding” wherein one or more reproductive females, several workers, larvae and pupae travel to a nesting site. Ghost ants are highly adaptable, nesting in a variety of nesting habits with the ability to migrate between nests. Reproductive queens will form subcolonies in which they lay eggs, which makes extermination of this species particularly difficult. The queen ant lays a large number of eggs, which hatch after two to four weeks into larvae. Sterile female workers look after the larvae for as long as two months, after which adult ants emerge from the colony.
Ghost Ants and Humans
Ghost ants are considered a major pest to humans. Actively foraging and even nesting indoors, the Ghost ant can be a serious sanitary issue (and let’s face it, serious sanity issue). The Ghost ant is attracted to sweet and greasy materials and therefore is readily seen near food sources or spills. It is not uncommon in an infested house to discover these ants in packages of candy and sugar. When passing from dirty areas like drains and rubbish bins to food sources in the home, and while chewing through materials, Ghost ants may transfer germs throughout the home, which can lead to disease.
The Ghost ant does not sting or cause any serious structural damage, and usually does not bite unless the mound is disturbed.
Ghost Ant Bites
If the Ghost ant does bite, it is typically not painful and does not exhibit any symptoms. If symptoms do occur, however, positive identification of the species should be done immediately. Apply an antibiotic ointment and apply ice to the affected area.
How to Get Rid of Ghost Ants
The Ghost ant can be a particularly difficult species to control. When threatened, as by insecticides, the colony may move young Ghost ants into a new nest. Additionally, the colony may migrate if they want to start a new colony. This constant movement makes detection and control tricky.
Ghost Ant Control
It may take as long as 5 months to completely eliminate a Ghost ant colony. Sugar baits have proven most effective due to the widespread and migratory nature of the colonies. Combined with insecticides colonies can be eliminated. It is not recommended to use insecticides alone and professional pest control is advisable with this particular species.
- After identifying all the nesting sites possible, the nest of the ant will be drenched in insecticides containing fipronil, bifenthrin, or permethrin, in conjunction with granular baits. Drenching the mounds will usually kill off the ant colony, but this procedure may need to be repeated. Liquid or non-repellent insecticides such as Termidor should be used on Ghost ants outdoors: not repellent insecticides.
- Bait: Traps have been proven to be a more long-term and effective solution to Ghost ant control. Several commercial type baits are used to lure ants and kill them: Terro, Pic, and Drax contain boric acid and a combination of various sugars that are attractive to ants. Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait is a brand of sugar bait commonly used by professionals.
- Dust pesticides are applied to nest entrances with an active colony to cover a greater surface area. Dust pesticides commonly used by professionals include silica gel (Drione and Tri-Die are two professional brands) and deltamethrin (DeltaDust).
DIY and Green Solutions for Ghost Ant Control
The Ghost ant has proven to be a very difficult ant to control using “do-it-yourself” measures, but some methods can be employed to help prevent and eliminate this species from your home. Many ant infestations can be controlled without the use of a professional pest control company, and even without using toxic insecticides. Whether or not you employ professional services should be dependent on the scope of your ant problem. Keep in mind that prevention may be the most effective method of all.
- Tidy Up!: Ghost ants are known for actively foraging indoors for food, and will be attracted instantly to any spilled food (especially sugary or greasy foods), so be sure to keep your house tidy. Limit food consumption to the kitchen, then focus on keeping it spic and span. Think of any spills or food left out as a bait for the Ghost ant. Keep food items, particularly sugary ones, away from ground level and tightly secured. If ants are seen inside, use a vacuum cleaner to get rid of them.
- Exclusion: to prevent the entry of Ghost ants, install tight-fitting doors, door sweeps, windows, and screens. Use caulking to secure cracks and leakages in doors and windows. Focus on areas around the foundation of your home as this is where Ghost ants commonly nest. Additionally, chili pepper, cinnamon, peppermint, salt, pepper, and borax are natural ant deterrents and can be used to stop ants from coming in.
- Outside: other outdoor pests like aphids can attract Ghost ants so employ methods to control these bugs in order to keep it uninterested in your property. Even consider eliminating plants that attract aphids and similar insects. Clear piles of lumber, bricks, and other debris from your yard: these are perfect nesting sites for Ghost ants. Also make sure to trim trees and shrubs so they are not touching the sides of buildings. Keep landscape mulch at least a foot away from foundations and less than two inches thick. Make sure your sprinklers do not spray directly onto your foundation, as this could rot material close to it and make a nice soft spot for nesting. If insecticides are not desired, pour boiling water on and around the entrances to Ghost ant mounds. It may be necessary to use a high-pressure hose to scrape away the tops of mounds and expose the tunnels inside.
- Baits can be helpful if the problem is widespread. Several pre-made baits are available for sale at hardware stores, but a homemade mixture of borax and sugar, honey, or syrup may also be effective. Once the ants are gone, promptly remove the baits from your home. Baits are particularly effective if the mound of the ants is not found.
- Liquid Insecticides containing cypermethrin, like Demon EC, Demon WP, Cynoff EC, or Cynoff WP, though not a “green” solution, can be applied to a mound by anyone. If using such a product, it is important to completely drench all mounds. Use caution when applying insecticides, as this can often cause a “rebound” in Ghost ant populations. When using widespread insecticides, it is most advisable to contact a pest control professional. Certain “green” or non-pesticide products like Kleen Kill can also be used to drench the mounds.
- Call a Green Pest Control Service: A nationally recognized and non-profit organization offers companies “Green Shield Certification” to ensure effective pest control without use of pesticides.
Ghost ants are not aggressive, but can create a huge problem in your lawn or garden and will forage and nest indoors. Get rid of any mounds or tunnels in your lawn immediately and if you believe you have a serious infestation of the Ghost ant, call a pest control professional right away.