What Are They?
Dependent on warmth for survival, ghost ants often appear in backyard greenhouses or homes. Their unique coloring, tiny size, and unpredictable movements set them apart from other ants. Ghost ant colonies contain 100 to 1,000 members, with each colony supporting multiple queens and a large number of workers.
What Do They Look Like?
Ghost ants are barely visible, with the largest specimens measuring about 1/20 of an inch in length. When magnified, however, unique markings make the pests easy to recognize. Their abdomens and legs are white or translucent, giving them a somewhat ghostly appearance.
Ghost ants are tiny. The workers are less than 1/16″ long.
They have a distinctive coloration. The head and mid-section are dark. The abdomen (back segment), legs, and antennae are very light colored. Because of their small size and pale coloration, these ants are very hard to see. The two-toned coloration causes some people to call them “black-headed ants”.
What Do They Eat?
Indoors, ghost ants feed on crumbs. A fondness for sweets draws them to cakes, cookies, and candy, although they will eat almost anything. The pests also feed on both dead and live insects and honeydew.</
Where Do You Find Them in the House?
The workers forage in trails. They readily enter buildings using entrances like door thresholds and weep holes. The workers also follow tree limbs or shrubs that touch the house. Because of their small size, they can enter through tiny cracks around windows or utility line entrances.
Inside the home, ghost ant workers follow the edge of carpets, cabinet bases, or baseboards. They frequently rail to moisture sources in kitchens and bathrooms. They can follow electric wires, cables, and phone lines inside of walls and move from room to room.
What Are They Attracted To?
Soil, rotting wood, and indoor and outdoor plants are all common places to find ghost ants. They gather the honeydew that the aphids produce. The honeydew is a major food item for the ghost ant colony. Colonies often grow out of hand, as they have numerous reproductive females.
What is their geographical range?
Ghost ants seem to be tropical ants. They are well established in several places around the Caribbean. They are also established in Puerto Rico, in Florida, and in Hawaii. There have been isolated infestations in northern states. There have also been reports of ghost ants in California and other places along the Pacific coast.
These northern sightings may have involved plants that had been shipped to northern greenhouses. They also could have involved ant colonies hitching rides in household goods that were shipped or in tourist’s luggage returning from vacation.
Ghost ants are capable of indoor reproduction and will lay eggs within shoes, potted plants, or anywhere with a dark crevice. Nests can relocate quickly, as dominant females and workers often migrate. This is, in fact, how new colonies form and infestations grow.
Nests & Colonies
Ghost ants nest outdoors in holes in trees, in the soil under rocks, under woodpiles, and even in potted plants. The workers tend aphids and other plant-feeding insects.
Ghost ant colonies are often very large. There are multiple queens in a colony. Because of the colony size, ghost ants often use several nesting sites at the same time. The workers move between the satellite nests along established trails.
Because of their small size, ghost ants can make indoor nests in narrow cracks and crevices. They readily nest in wall voids, under baseboards, and in electrical; boxes. A ghost ant nest was reported inside a stack of magazines on a side table in a family room.
Problems Caused by Ghost Ants
Their bites aren’t painful, and ghost ants cause no structural damage. However, these home-invading pests cause sanitary issues by contaminating stored food. They produce an unpleasant, rotten-coconut smell that worsens when they’re smashed. The pests’ fast movements can also bother individuals who have a particular dislike for insects.
Leaky faucets or bathtubs can invite ghost ants indoors. Homeowners will see and possibly smell the pests when they’re present. Cracks in buildings are common entry points.
How to Prevent Them / Get Rid of Them?
Prevention is a key part of controlling ghost ants.
Since ghost ant colonies need humidity and moisture to survive, water leaks are a major concern. Keep home entryways and washrooms cool and free of dampness. Maintain clean kitchen floors and countertops, and vacuum routinely.
For added prevention against ghost ants, seal foundation cracks and repair torn screens. Remove plants or thick brush near the home, and shut windows and doors when not in use. Those with greenhouses or heated environments should be especially cautious, keeping entryways secure and food sealed in air-tight containers.
Make sure exterior doors close tightly and replace missing weather-stripping. Try using squares of plastic screen to block weep holes without restricting ventilation. Trim tree limbs that touch the house. Rake mulch away from the foundation to make a 12″ “clear zone”. Put firewood up on a rack and move it as far from the home as possible.