Typically found in tropical and subtropical regions of the world, the ghost ant, or Tapinoma melanocephalum, is a small insect that gives off the distinct odour of rotten coconuts when crushed. The common name comes from the pale, almost translucent abdomen of the ant. Ghost ants move in an erratic and rapid way that resembles the movements of small spiders.
Appearance / Identification
The ghost ant generally reaches around 1.3 to 1.5 mm in size, with queens ranking as the largest colony members at approximately 2 to 2.5 mm. Ghost ants are dark in colour on the head and thorax, while the appendages and gaster, or abdomen, are milky white. Due to the small size of the pests and the nearly translucent quality of the lower half of their bodies, they are particularly difficult to see with the naked eye.
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Certain areas of the United States, such as Florida and Texas, support relatively large populations of ghost ants. The insects are also found in Canada, as the ghost ant has a wide range that includes temperate regions and indoor environments.
Indoors, ghost ants are known to forage for sweets and greases. In the wild, they feed on both live and dead insects. These insects often tend to aphids and other homopterans in so that the ants may feed on the honeydew they produce. Ghost ants also prey on arthropods to the point that in certain areas where the insects are prevalent, the local population of spider mites is nearly eradicated.
Life Cycle / Reproduction
Ghost ant colonies are moderate to large in size and can accommodate populations ranging between 100 and 1,000. Unlike other common species of ants, ghost ants typically reproduce and generate new colonies through budding, or the fragmentation of the main nest. Colonies tend to have multiple queens, and workers move freely between nests. Ghost ant nests are found in soil, rotten wood, under tree bark and leaf litter, in plant cavities, and even among detritus.
Problems Caused by Ghost Ants
Particularly in the temperate areas of Canada, ghost ants invade homes to build nests and forage for food with relative consistency. In human habitations, nests are often found in potted plants and breadboxes, behind baseboards, between cabinets, and even in shower curtain rods. Ghost ants also like to take shelter in greenhouses, where they can cause issues by feeding on aphids and other honeydew-producing arthropods.
Detection / Signs of Infestation
Due to their small size, nearly translucent colouring, and rapid movement, ghost ants can be difficult to see and detect in the home. The insects follow trails when foraging for food, however, which reveals the existence of a ghost ant infestation in the vicinity. Additionally, when crushed, the pests emit a strong, unpleasant odour similar to that of a rotten coconut.
To keep ghost ants out, check for cracks in the foundation, around doors and windows, and near soffits. If any cracks are found, use caulk to seal the possible points of entry. Additionally, since the ghost ant is known to nest in the soil near porches, shrubs, and trees close to the home, make sure to keep mulch away from the foundation of the structure, and regularly check for nests in the ground.
Control / Removal
Store-bought baits may work on smaller populations of ghost ants, especially if the nest itself is found. Larger infestations may require the professional services of a pest management specialist. Trained and educated in all the latest removal techniques, a professional pest control specialist can locate and eradicate ghost ant infestations and develop integrated pest management plans to prevent the problem from happening again in the future.