With a length ranging from 0.05 inch to 0.08 inch, the ghost ant has a characteristic pale, whitish abdomen, legs and antennae — and a dark-colored head and thorax. This species was introduced into the U.S. from Africa or Asia, and has become an important household pest in areas of high humidity, including much of Florida, southeast Texas, and Hawaii. It also occurs in California and the Pacific Northwest.
Their size and coloration can make ghost ant workers hard to see, notes a bulletin from the Texas Invasive Species Institute: “In fact, the ghost ant may not look ant-like on casual inspection. This species runs in quick, erratic movements when disturbed, but sometimes can be found trailing, where movement is more slow and deliberate. On close inspection some trailing workers can be seen carrying brood (larvae and pupae). Workers may emit acrid (coconut-like) odor when crushed. This pungent odor is where the ants gain the name ‘Corpse Ant’ in Malaysia.”
Ghost ants can develop large colonies with many queens. Colonies can divide or split through a budding process similar to that of pharaoh ants (Monomorium pharaonis) and white-footed ants (Technomyrmex difficilis). They generally nest outdoors under mulch, rocks, boards or other items, or under loose tree bark and in lumber and firewood piles. Removal of these nesting areas will aid control programs.
Ghost ant workers feed on honeydew and scavenge for proteins outdoors. They enter homes through exterior openings for utility lines, or around door and window casings. According to the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), ghost ants often enter homes by trailing along branches of trees and shrubs in direct contact with the structure. Recommend to customers that they keep shrubbery trimmed, cut back tree branches, remove leaf litter and yard debris, and store firewood at least 20 feet away from the home.
The NPMA further advises to focus inspections on sinks, toilets and tubs for leaks or drips. Plus, “check carpet edges and shoe moldings, and around windows and doors for trails of ants. Also, inspect electrical outlets and telephone jacks, especially in the kitchen and bathroom. Outdoors, pay attention to the area along foundation walls and sidewalks by pulling back the grass. Turn over any stones, bricks, logs, firewood or debris on the ground.”
Finding all the nest areas and treating them directly with insecticide spray or soil drench can achieve satisfactory control. Residual treatments indoors or outdoors with appropriately labeled, non-repellent insecticides are also effective. In addition, ghost ants may respond to baits with sweet, grease or protein bases.
- NPMA Consumer Pest Guide, accessed 2/21/23: PestWorld.org/pest-guide/ants/ghost-ants
- Texas Invasive Species Institute bulletin, accessed 2/21/23: TSUInvasives.org/home/database/tapinoma-melanocephalum
- Truman’s Scientific Guide to Pest Management Operations, Seventh Edition, available for purchase at MyPMP.net/shop
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