Ants are one of the most common infestations in modern homes, and can appear for a number of reasons. The vast majority are black, red, or occasionally albino ants. However, some species may catch you off-guard with their unique appearance.
One of these unusual species is the ghost ant. These little gals are quick and their coloration allows them to seemingly vanish when they flee.
Understanding these ants can be crucial to controlling them, as their societies are slightly different than the common black ant. Here’s how to get rid of ghost ants and keep them away.
Getting to Know Ghost Ants
Ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum) are sometimes called black-headed ants and are most commonly found in kitchens, bathrooms, and gardens. They’re highly adaptable and can spread quickly.
As they’re a tropical species, they’re generally found in only the southernmost states such as Texas and Florida. However, they’ve spread as far as Canada and Hawaii thanks to greenhouses and plant nurseries
What Does a Ghost Ant Look Like?
Chances are, the first thing you’ll notice is the black head and thorax. Pretty much the rest of a ghost ant’s body is pale to the point of being almost translucent.
The abdomen has faint lighter markings that can be hard to see without getting close, as the workers of this species measure only about 1/16 inches long.
Ghost Ant Society
As with all ant species, ghost ants live in colonies, with the average colony size being moderate to large in population. However, this species will send one or more fertile females and an escort of workers, occasionally carrying larvae and pupae, to a prospective new nesting ground.
This expansion method is often referred to as budding, and it allows for very rapid growth of the new colony.
Ghost ants are highly adaptable and a colony will contain multiple queens and possibly several satellites with their own queens. You can find nesting sites in dead branches, under rocks, beneath flower pots or dense tufts of grass, as well as behind baseboards or cabinets.
See Also: How to Get Rid of Carpenter Ants
What Are Ghost Ants Attracted To?
A ghost ant’s diet is primarily honeydew, so they will often set up colonies near garden or potted plants infested with aphids, mealybugs, or other honeydew-producing species.
They’re known insectivores, so they may consider other infestations to be an all-you-can-eat buffet. As with most ants, they’ll go after crumbs and other sugary goodies you leave within their reach.
Black-headed ants also prefer places with plenty of moisture, so you will be more likely to find them setting up home in kitchens, bathrooms, or greenhouses than your living room.
Read Also: Getting Rid of Grease Ants
Do Ghost Ants Bite?
All ants lack a stinger, but they are known to bite, some more than others (ie: fire ants). Thankfully, ghost ants only bite when seriously threatened and their jaws are too small to cause damage.
Ghost Ants vs Sugar Ants
People often get confused when they hear someone referring to sugar ants. Most species of ant that are attracted to sugars are given the nickname “sugar ant”. However, true sugar ants are a species native to Australia and are brown to black in coloration.
Ghost Ants vs Odorous House Ants
The odorous house ant (Tapinoma sessile) ranges in size from 1/16 to 1/8 inches long. As a result, young worker ants can be mistaken for ghost ants. However, odorous house ands have black to brown heads and bodies. They also smell like rotten coconuts when crushed.
Meanwhile, the average ghost ant is only 1/16 inches long and has a bicolor body. They also don’t leave behind a nasty odor when crushed.
Getting Rid of Ghost Ants
Like Argentine ants, you may need to use a little extra care when dealing with ghost ant infestations, due to the potential for satellite colonies. It’s easy to get one ghost ant colony and miss two or three more. However, you can deal with them using methods similar to most other ant species.
In the Home
The last thing you want to do is start killing ghost ant workers willy-nilly. This will send an alarm though the entire colony, spurring queens to lay more eggs and create more satellites. Instead, you need to be sneaky and make the deaths seem natural.
There are a few ways to do this, although some will attack the whole colony while others only reduce their numbers.
Whole Colony Killers
The best way to deal with ants in your home is the use of traps. A good bait trap containing borax (such as Terro Liquid Ant Baits) laid along their scent trails will attract the ants and fool them into carrying poison back to the nest where they’ll share it with other ants, larvae, and the queens.
Just remember, ants can build a resistance if you use the same chemical product all the time. Try alternating between two or three to prevent this. Borax baits are far less likely to create a resistance than other chemical options.
You can also make your own homemade bait. Simply mix an equal amount of borax and jelly, then place small amounts where kids and pets can’t get to them. The ants will go after this sugary food source just like they would a commercial poison.
There are times you may wish to keep the population low, such as waiting for a pest control company to inspect and treat your home. A great way to do this is with diatomaceous earth (or DE for short).
Food-grade DE is safe and all-natural. To humans, it’s a fine powder, but to bugs, it’s a field of broken glass. Sprinkle some DE around nest entrances and along known ant trails. As the ants walk on the DE, it will lacerate the protective coating on their exoskeletons. They’ll be unable to retain moisture, causing them to die of dehydration.
Sticky traps are also useful, although they’re harder to tuck away where pets and children can’t reach them. These methods are also useful if you find ghost ants in your car.
In the Garden
There are plenty of natural methods you can use in the garden that will also work against other insects. A spray made from two parts white vinegar and one part water is generally safe for use on many plant species.
Related: How to Get Rid of Ant Hills
How to Kill Ghost Ants
While they look different and have a slightly different colony structure, ghost ants can be killed with the same methods as any other ant. This includes insecticides, traps, and attracting predator species.
Keeping Ghost Ants Away
The best way to get rid of a ghost ant issue is to not have one in the first place, and there are a few good ways to ensure this.
Chances are, your home is full of entry points. These are tiny cracks and holes that an insect or other pest can get through. Periodically check the walls, windows, and doors for signs of damage or missing caulk and seal those spots.
Be sure to clean any debris in your yard such as leaf litter, dead tree branches, and loose bark. Ghost ants prefer sheltered areas for their nesting locations. By taking away this debris, you’re interrupting their nesting habits.
Be sure to clean up any spills, especially in the kitchen. Any sugary or greasy foods will attract them, as will food crumbs.
However, also remember they love honeydew. By keeping your plants free of aphids and other plant pests, you’re also cutting the ants’ access to food. Use a neem oil soak or other forms of systemic and foliar insecticides to eliminate these infestations and as a preventative measure.
Fixing leaky faucets and addressing water sources or other moisture issues will also help discourage them.
Finally, don’t be afraid to invite natural predators, such as spiders and birds, into your yard. They’ll feast on all sorts of insect pests. Best of all, this natural form of ghost ant control won’t cost you anything!
But if all else fails, don’t be afraid to hire a professional exterminator. They can check your wall voids and property to ensure every last queen gets destroyed in one go.