Ghost ants may be scaring up problems in both your home and your greenhouse. Or, they may be helping you stay healthy.
Thought to have originated in Africa or the Orient, invasive ghost ants (Tapinoma melanocephalum), also known as tramp ants, are now found everywhere. Like other ants, ghost ant farm aphids and other sap-sucking garden pests for their honeydew, protecting them from their natural enemies.
Ghost ant identification
These ants are smaller than most ant species. Workers average only 0.051 to 0.079 inches long, which means you could line up more than a dozen of them across the face of an American dime. They have dark heads and milky white to translucent legs and bodies, hence the name. Ghost ants look similar to pharaoh ants.
If you were to look at ghost ants with a hand lens, you would see that their antennae have 12 segments. When disturbed, ghost ants tend to race around erratically. These ants do not sting, but they do cause problems.
Problems with ghost ants
Ghost ants have a sweet tooth. While they eat many household foods, including greasy foods, they have a strong preference for sweets. They will track down and devour your honey, syrup, cakes, and cookies while indoors and every sweet, juicy fruit and sap-filled stem outside.
Being a tropical species, ghost ants frequently invade and nest in homes, greenhouses, and potted plants. These ants are so small, they can create tiny satellite colonies inside plant stems and in between the books on your shelf. Most ghost ant colonies are significantly larger and are commonly found within the walls of homes and underground. Each colony may have several queens.
While cold weather generally limits the spread of this species, it is now found as far north as Minnesota, New York, and Canada. Apparently, all of our buildings are making life easier for ghost ants. Because ghost ants farm aphids, they also spread disease. These pests are so small that they are proving to be problematic in quarantine greenhouses. They sneak in, feed for a while, and then go elsewhere, taking whatever diseases were present in the greenhouse with them.
Ghost ants aren’t all bad
Ghost ants are scavengers in the garden, eating dead insects and speeding the decomposition process. They also eat the larvae of small beetles, moths, and butterflies. Ghost ants will also put a significant dent in the local two-spotted mite population. In Venezuela, ghost ants eat the eggs of kissing bugs (Rhodnius prolixus). Kissing bugs are vectors for Chagas’ disease, which damages the heart and nervous system.
Ghost ant control
Ants are one of Earth’s most successful species. Controlling them is difficult, and it all starts with cleanliness. If ghost ants are haunting your home, put all foods into airtight containers and wipe up spills right away. Caulk cracks and other points of entry. These pests enjoy a little moisture, too, so eliminate leaks and condensation.
If you can control aphids, whiteflies, and other insects that produce honeydew, ghost ants will find your garden less attractive.
Ant baits are effective against ghost ants. The closer they are placed to the nest, the most effective they will be. Just follow the ant trail. Also, make sure outdoor plants are not touching your house. Those stems make excellent insect highways to your home.
Apparently, if you crush a ghost ant, they smell like rotten coconuts.
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