Pest Information - Ants

There are almost 9,000 species of ants and they can be found from the Arctic Circle to the Tropics. This site will focus on the ants most commonly found in Hawaii. Learn about their Appearance, Habitat, Diet, Type of Damage, and Life Cycle.
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Ghost Ant

Ghost Ant

Scientific Name

Tapinoma melanocephalum (Fabricius)

Appearance

Ghost ants look like tiny, white apparitions who suddenly appear and seem to disappear just as quickly. Workers are 1/16 inch/1.5 mm in length. The legs, pedicel, gaster, and antennae are pale, almost translucent, in color and the head and thorax are darker. For this reason, the ghost ant is also known in some areas as the black-headed ant.

Habitat

The ghost ant is highly adaptable in its nesting habits. It nests readily outdoors or indoors. Colonies may be moderate to large in size containing numerous reproducing females (polygyny). Generally, the colonies occupy local sites that are too small or unstable to support entire large colonies. The sites include tufts of dead but temporarily moist grass, plant stems, and cavities beneath detritus in open, rapidly changing habitats. Indoors, the ant colonizes wall voids or spaces between cabinetry and baseboards. It will also nest in potted plants. Thus, the colonies are broken into subunits that occupy different nest sites and exchange individuals back and forth along odor trails. Ghost ants are opportunistic nesters in places that sometimes remain habitable for only a few days or weeks.

Diet

Like many pest ants, ghost ant workers prefer the honeydew secreted by aphids and mealy bugs. These ants will protect bugs from predators, insuring the safety of their living food source. Not only do they crave the honeydew from aphids, ghost ants have a definite "sweet tooth" when foraging through your home. Any candy, sugar or other sweets are fair game to these little guys. Because of their size, ghost ants are often not found until someone is well into preparing food.

Type of Damage

This species is a household pest. The ghost ant will not only invade houses from the outside, it can nest in the house as well. In Florida, the ghost ant has infested quarantine greenhouses where they have proven impossible to control due to the restrictions imposed on the use of toxicants in these greenhouses. In more northern areas, it has become established in heated greenhouses where it can become a problem, especially if it defends honeydew producing plant pests against introduced biological control organisms.

Life Cycle

Multiple ghost ant queens may be spread out in multiple subcolonies. New colonies are probably formed by budding. This occurs when one or more reproductive females, accompanied by several workers and possibly some brood (larvae and pupae), leave an established colony for a new nesting site. There does not appear to be any infighting between members of different colonies or nests. Mating takes place in the nest and no swarms are known to occur.

Interesting Facts

When crushed, the ghost ant workers emit an odor similar to that of rotten coconuts.