Facts, Identification & Control
The ghost ant (Tapinoma melanocephalum) gets its name from its size and pale color of its legs and abdomen, which make it difficult to see. These ants have dark heads and thoraxes. The workers are about 1.3 to 1.5 mm long. Ghost ants are related to odorous house ants. Like the odorous house ants, ghost ants give off a coconut like odor when they are crushed.
Behavior, Diet & Habits
Ghost ants are tropical ants that have been in south and central Florida for several years. They are easily transported in boxes, crates, potted plants and even in household goods that are being shipped. In northern states, these ants have been known to survive only in heated buildings and greenhouses.
These ants eat honeydew that they collect from plant-feeding insects. They often tend aphids to collect the honeydew. The workers also gather insects to feed the colony. When they are indoors, ghost ants usually prefer sweets.
Outdoors, ghost ants make their nest in the ground. They often nest beside stones, logs and firewood piles. They enter buildings on trails that they make along the ground. They also enter houses by trailing on utility lines or by following limbs of trees and shrubs that touch the house.
When ghost ants make nests indoors, it is usually in flowerpots, behind baseboards and inside wall voids. The colony may split into several nests. It is normal to find ghost ants trailing between multiple nesting sites.
Queens produce eggs which, in turn, develop into the other colony members through complete metamorphosis. New colonies often are formed through a process known as budding. Budding involves a queen and a contingent of workers separating from the main colony to form a new colony elsewhere. This can happen multiple times, depending on the number of queens.
Signs of a Ghost Ant Infestation
Sightings of small ghost ant workers is the usual sign of their presence.
A thorough inspection is the first step in preventing ghost ant problems. Around the outside of the house, look for places that might attract ghost ants. Move firewood piles away from the house. Pull mulch away from the foundation to create a “dry zone” that the ants (and other insects) will avoid. Make sure exterior doors close snugly. Replace weather stripping where it is missing. People who live in brick houses often place small squares of plastic screen into weep holes to keep ants from using them as entrances.
Controlling ghost ants requires time and patience. Because there can be multiple nesting sites, these ants are usually best left to a pest control professional.