Ghost Ants are tiny but not invisible and not ghostly at all. Their translucent legs, thorax and antennae make them hard to see. Like their cousin the Odorous house ant, they smell when crushed. If Ghost ants are spooking up your home or business, we’ll show you how to make them go away…..
Ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum) are very small – only 1/16th inch in length. All the workers are the same size (monomorphic). They get their name because of their unique body coloring and appearance.
Their head and abdomen are a deep dark brown and thorax, legs and antennae are milky white, almost translucent. Their small size and 2 tone milky white coloring makes the workers hard to see, which probably protects them from predators which might feed on them. They are also sometimes referred to as the “black headed” ant. They have no stinger and do not bite.
Ghost ants are related to the Odorous house ant and have a rotten coconut odor when crushed. They are slightly smaller than the Odorous house ant and are colored differently, since the Odorous ant is almost entirely dark brown or black. The antennae of both ant species have 12 segments and no club.
Ghost ants rival Argentine and crazy ants in their persistence in invading buildings. Its basic biology and habits are similar to those of the Odorous house ant. For this reason, these ants are often confused. One identification fact is that Odorous house ants tend to be smaller and workers all the same size.
Pharaoh ants are very similar to Ghost ants. Their nesting habits are practically the same indoors in that both species like to live in walls voids. Cosmetically, the Pharaoh ant is almost completely translucent, whereas Ghost ants have a dark head and abdomen. Pharaoh ants also have 2 nodes on the pedicle, the Ghost ant only has a single node.
Ghost ants seem to have a high need for moisture. They readily live inside wall voids, and we often get reports of workers trailing out of electric outlet plates, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms. Like Pharaoh ants, these ants use electric wires to travel from room to room. By removing electric outlet plates and inspecting with a flashlight, foraging ants can sometimes be seen in these areas.
Where They Are Found
Ghost ants were originally found in Florida, but primarily in the Southern regions. They have since been reported in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands, Texas and Hawaii and Canada. They were thought to have been transported to Galveston, Texas from Florida on a shipment of plants.
In the northern areas of the United States and Canada, Ghost ants routinely infest heated greenhouses and other similar buildings as they can only survive in heated structures.
A colony of ghost ants may be moderate to large in size, containing thousands of workers and numerous reproductive queens. Colonies are typically located in sites that are too small to house an entire colony so the colony is usually divided into sub-colonies.
The ghost ant’s primary habitat is outdoors, and like most successful tramp ant species, it is highly opportunistic in its nesting habits. It will nest in soil, in debris in crotches of trees, dead tree limbs, under and inside logs, in and under firewood, and under stones.
Indoors, colonies will be located inside walls, in boxes, between sheets, towels, and folded clothing, in waterbeds, and virtually any other dark protected site. One colony was discovered in a Miami home when the iron was plugged in and ghost ants poured out of the holes in the bottom of the iron!
This ant challenges the Pharaoh ant for versatility in selecting nest sites.
Colonies also frequently form under the loose bark and in cavities of trees, in bird and animal nests and in honey bee hives. The colonies locate themselves in the top of the hives, apparently for the warmth the hive produces. The ants feed little on the honey even though they are ravenous sweet eaters.
Ghost ants are considered a “tramp ant” due to their ability to relocate just about anywhere, infest buildings and become a major nuisance. They are found in most regions of the World that are located in sub-tropical and tropical latitudes. In fact, the Ghost ant is the original tramp ant as it was once referred to as simply “the tramp ant”.
As seen with most successful “tramp” pest ants, Ghost ants have multiple queen colonies numbering thousands of workers. Extended colonies or “sub colonies” often exist in foraging trails along which workers, food, and brood (larvae and pupae) are exchanged. The workers from separate colonies are antagonistic to each other so separate colonies will not integrate and split apart as is seen with the Argentine ant. Workers and queens may live for several years.
Much like the Argentine ant and the Odorous house ant, Ghost ants ants prefer sweet and sugary foods. Aphids, mealy bugs and the honeydew secreted by them are their favorite food source. For this reason, sugary based based baits such Greenway / Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait work well to control them. Granular baits won’t work since the worker ants don’t eat solid foods.
Ghost ants will readily attack and kill insects and will forage on dead insects in window sills and around outdoor light fixtures. Indoors, Ghost ants show a preference for sweets. They are commonly found inside packages of candy, sugar, and similar foods in kitchen pantries.
How To Get Rid of Ghost Ants
Getting rid of Ghost ants depends on your ability to locate foraging ants and nesting sites. Ghost ant colonies living in the soil or under items, such as stones or logs, should be treated by drenching each individual colony with a residual insecticide using a hand held sprayer.
If the Ghost ant colony cannot be located, outdoor liquid ant baits must be used. Sweet baits such as Greenway / Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait seem to be preferred over most other liquid baits.
Spraying liquid pesticides for Ghost ants usually will result in rapid egg laying. This causes them to multiply faster making them worse. In order to kill and control these ants, the nest and the queens have to be eradicated and egg laying stopped. Spraying chemicals on baseboards and in cabinets won’t kill the queens or hidden nest(s) inside the walls. Spraying outdoor areas can be expensive, time consuming and require repeated frequent applications. In most cases, using a liquid bait to control them works best. But it has to be applied outdoors.
Indoors, Ghost ants commonly nest in wall voids in insulation. They prefer to nest near and close to heat sources such as hot water heaters and hot water pipes. They have also been known to nest under bathtubs, in the walls of shower stalls, on exterior walls and even in potted plants.
Dusting of walls and voids with an insecticidal dust will help provide control and kill Ghost ant nests. Removing wall switch plate covers, plumbing access points (rings around faucets, drains etc.) and making small holes directly through sheetrock is usually necessary to apply the dust. Worker Ghost ants will crawl through the dust and die.
In most cases a slow acting dust such as BorActin (boric acid) is best because it doesn’t kill the ants instantly. Instead, it’s a slow kill giving them time to go back to the nest where they die. In time, the entire colony will slowly starve from the loss of the worker ants.
When dusting, use a small hand duster such as the Puffer Duster. The dust needs to be a very thin film, such as dust on a TV or furniture. Any thicker dust layer and the ants will crawl around it. Using a spoon or applying directly out of a bottle won’t work as it leaves clumps. Don’t apply dust to baseboards or cabinets. It is only applied inside of hidden areas such as walls, or in cracks, crevices, etc. If you can see the dust, it is not applied correctly.
Gel Baits and Bait Stations
Ghost ants can also be controlled by using Ant Gel Baits such as Advion Ant Gel Bait – if they feed on it. This bait has to be applied wherever the ants are seen. It also have to be monitored and replaced as soon as the ants devour it. Daily inspection of the bait is necessary and re-baiting until the ants are completely gone is essential. Putting out a gel bait one time will not work in most cases.
If insecticidal dusts, gel baits don’t seem to be working, then focus your efforts outdoors. Outdoor control of Ghost ants is key to long term control. Any indoor control can be short term. If they are nesting and colonizing outdoors, then an outdoor treatment program is essential to any control effort.
The KM Ant Pro Liquid Bait system is the best overall approach to Ghost ant control and is only used outdoors.
Outdoors, Ghost ants live under mulch, bark, rocks, logs and almost anywhere a damp environment exists. Treatment of these areas with a residual liquid insecticide can help and even eliminate them entirely. These ants can also live in trees and shrubs due to their affinity for aphids and mealy bugs which produce honeydew – a sugary substance that they love and routinely feed on.
The problem is that a complete treatment of the lawn, trees and shrubs and every possible location where they live can be difficult.
One gallon of liquid pesticide per 1,000 square feet is the normal rate of application. If the lawn or area around the structure is several thousand square feet, it will take many gallons of spray with a hand pump sprayer. A quarter acre lawn (12,000 square feet) will take 12 + gallons of spray not including trees and shrubs. If on the other hand commercial spraying equipment is available, then this type of treatment may be more realistic.
The best liquid insecticides to use outdoors on lawns are Talstar, Bifenthrin, Demand CS and Onslaught Fastcap. These products vary in price with Bifenthrin being the least expensive and Onslaught Fastcap being the most expensive per gallon of mix. Onslaught Fastcap is microencapsulated and will last up to 6 weeks outdoors.
Phantom and Termidor SC can be applied to foundation areas of homes and buildings up to 2 times per year. These products are not labeled for use on lawns or any where beyond the immediate foundation areas.
Outdoor baiting with liquid baits is the best overall approach to eradicating Ghost ants. The only product that works is the KM Ant Pro Liquid Bait Dispenser with Greenway / Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait. This patented dispenser dispenses liquid baits over months and months without any need for maintenance. Simply replace the bait every 90 days for best results.
When Ghost ants find the KM Ant Pro dispenser, they begin feeding. The active ingredient used in Greenway / Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait is boric acid – the same material mentioned earlier in BorActin. The ants slowly begin dying and over a period of 60-90 days. The nests and colonies soon starve and crash.
The benefit to using outdoor liquid baits, is that the workload and treatment time is reduced drastically. There also is practically ZERO effect on the environment because no pesticides are used. The main benefit however is that ants located off premises can be intercepted and killed before they infest and start new nests. Outdoor baiting can provide a barrier to help prevent future infestations.
The KM Ant Pro Liquid Bait System not only kills Ghost ants indoors, it kills them outdoors. That’s because ants that infest indoors will go outdoors to find food sources. The KM Ant Pro System provides this alternative food source. It’s proven in University testing by the University of California at Riverside and has patents in the USA and in Europe. If you are looking of an easy solution to killing Ghost ants, there really is nothing easier than the KM Ant Pro System.
RELATED ARTICLE: KM Ant Pro Liquid Bait System
If You Must Spray Pesticides…..
Spraying will kill the exposed worker ants, but it will not kill the entire colony. If you are going to spray, make certain you know exactly what you are spraying and that it’s a “non-repellent” insecticide. Non-repellent means the insects cannot detect its presence and will trail over it unknowingly. They pick it on their feet and antennae by crawling over it causing death.
Non-repellent pesticides are not available at hardware stores or most farm and feed stores. Almost all are professional quality and only available through a specialty distributor such as ePestSupply.
Phantom Insecticide is an odorless, non-repelling pesticide that kills ants within a few weeks of application. Phantom works by entering the ants nervous system through grooming and food sharing and then systematically kills the ants through a degeneration process. Phantom is a “metabolic inhibitor” and kills ants very slowly. It can be effective at controlling most hard to kill species of ants. It is also labeled and used for termites, cockroaches, and others.
Fuse Insecticide and Termidor Foam can also be used. These products can kill Ghost ants, but are not as efficient as liquid baits. They are also considered moderately toxic making them unsuitable for use in sensitive areas such as hospitals and nurseries.
Insecticide dusts such as Timbor and BorActin can be used inside of walls, voids and cracks and crevices. These products are essentially Boric Acid based, non-repellent and very safe. Insecticide dusts will not kill the colony and will only kill the exposed worker ants.
Make It Easy
There are many products available to kill Ghost ants. There are also many different opinions on how to control them. The bottom line is that the nests have to be controlled in order to stop the egg laying and breeding cycles. Whatever method you determine is best for your needs, be sure to take into consideration the amount of time and potential frustration by using a “cheap” or inexpensive hardware store variety spray or bait. These products simply do not work and are not the same as commercially available products.
Outdoor baiting with liquid baits such as KM Ant Pro Bait Dispenser with Greenway / Gourmet Liquid Ant Bait is a long term solution to getting rid of Ghost ants. It will provide them with food sources outdoors and help prevent migration indoors. This system also helps intercept outside invading ants and creates a barrier to help prevent re-infestation outdoors. Year round use of this system can aid greatly in getting rid of existing ants and preventing future infestations.