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GHOST ANT

Ghost Ant, Black-Headed Ant

Also known as Black-Headed Ant

Tapinoma melanocephalum (Fabricius)   Subfamily Dolichoderinae

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Ghost Ant Biology and Identification

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The ghost ant is sometimes called the black-headed ant.   This ant is tiny (less than 1/16 inch in length) with a dark head and thorax.   The pale colored, almost translucent abdomen and legs, in addition to its tiny size, gives the ghost ant its name.   This ant is sometimes misidentified as an odorous house ant, to which it is related.  The odorous house ant does not have a pale abdomen and is larger than the ghost ant.  Both ants emit an odor resembling rotten coconut when crushed.

The very tiny size and color of the ghost ant forces you to inspect surfaces closely in order to see the minuscule workers move about.  This makes tracking down an infestation very difficult.


  • Colony Structure - The ghost ant colony can be moderate to large in size, containing thousands of workers and numerous queens.  The colony is usually divided into sub-colonies; this is because the areas where ghost ants prefer to build nests are usually too small to house their huge numbers.  Different ghost ant colonies do not attack one another and will even integrate with their neighboring ghost ants.
  • Habitat - The ghost ant's primary habitat is outdoors, but they will forage and establish colonies indoors.  This ant will nest in soil, debris found in the crotch of large trees, under and inside logs, dead tree limbs.   Favorite locations include the soil of potted plants, hollows or cracks in trees and shrubs and the debris that collects in the base of the fronds of palm trees.   Large numbers can often be found in the soil around large trees and against the foundation of buildings.
  • Indoor Colonies can be found in many places: wall voids, inside appliances, in folded clothing and linens, and have even been observed nesting in waterbeds.  These possible nesting sites are important to remember when inspecting or treating for ghost ants.  Ghost ants will trail from nearby tree limbs, shrubs and other vegetation to enter a structure through any opening such as under eaves, vents, along electrical and plumbing lines, and around windows, doors, chimneys or clothes dryer vents.
  • Feeding Habits of Ghost 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.  Ghost ants are a particular problem in butterfly houses or other facilities that raise or store live insects.  The ants will carry off the eggs and larvae of flies and  butterflies.  Not only will ghost ants attack and kill living insects, they readily feed on insect bodies found on window sills or in light fixtures.  This knowledge should aid in the inspection for ants and in their elimination.  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.

Ghost Ant Distribution

Ghost ants are a common pest that are well established in Florida and Hawaii.  In recent years they have been reported in many areas of the United States, as well as in Canada.  We believe that the distribution of ghost ants to northern states has been through the introduction of potted plants shipped from Florida to northern greenhouses.   Puerto Rico and the Caribbean Islands are also home to ghost ants.  It is believed that these pests will hitchhike in the luggage of tourists.

Ghost Ant Inspection

Indoors, ghost ants can often be found trailing under the edge of carpets.  Once a trail is located, attempt to follow the trail to the food source and to their entry points or nesting sites.  If the site is against an outside wall, inspect the outdoors in the same general area.  Outdoors, these active foragers should easily be found along the foundation of a building and up the sides of the building, where they search for an entry point.  Because of their high need for moisture, inspect any room that has plumbing or any wall that contains plumbing lines.

Ghost Ant Elimination

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A thorough inspection of the property must be made  (both indoors and out) to identify and deal with all possible colonies.  Once the colonies are located, it is time to start your ghost ant elimination program.  This is not as difficult as it may sound; you need to be patient and thorough in your inspection.

There are three tools which you may use to kill ghost ants:

  1. Demon EC is an excellent insecticide concentrate that can be used for spraying ant trails, drenching all possible ant beds and for treating around windows, doors and other entry points on the inside of your home and on the outside surface of structures.  When spraying indoors and on the outside surface of your home, use a good garden pump-up sprayer such as our Chapin Sprayer.  For drenching existing mounds, we have found the best tool to be a watering can or 5 gallon bucket.
    If you need to broadcast large areas (perimeters around structures) with Demon EC, a hose-end sprayer (see Dial-A-Mix Sprayer) will suffice.  Many people do not want to spray any insecticides inside their homes.  For these people, spray outdoors with Talstar and bait indoors with Maxforce FG granular bait.  This bait is small enough to be picked up by ghost ants.
  2. Spraying as a stand-alone method usually fails when dealing with Ghost Ants.  You need to also use a good insecticide dust, applying it inside wall voids, cracks, crevices, entry points where you know or suspect ghost ant activity.  Because of their need (or fondness) for moisture, you must use Delta Dust.   This product is the world's only water proof insecticide dust and will not clump or be harmed by moist conditions where ghost ants are found.  For ease of application and to penetrate voids further, apply Delta Dust with a Crusader Duster.
  3. Ant baits can be used, but baiting is only suggested if the ghost ant colonies cannot be located.  You may not have good results when baiting for ghost ants.  Ants are finicky eaters, but the ghost ant is one of the worst!   You may have initial success with the ants taking your bait, but these pests do not feed on any one food source long enough to distribute the bait to the entire colony.   Baits containing sweet attractants such as Gourmet might initially be taken by ghost ants, but ghost ants prefer granular material and will probably ignore them.   The best bait currently on the market that might be accepted by ghost ants is Maxforce FG.   This professional granular bait is ground up into particles small enough for ghost ants to grasp and carry back to the colony.  Because of small cracks and crevices where this bait is to be applied, we suggest using the Crusader Duster for application.  Maxforce FG is only recommended for situations where the ghost ant colony cannot be located and treated with drenching and dusting.
Ghost Ant Elimination Summary
Demon cannot be shipped to NY, NJ, CT, VT, AK Talstar cannot be shipped to MA, NY, NJ, CT, VT, HI, CA, AK Delta Dust Cannot be shipped to NY, NJ, CT, VT, AK Maxforce FG Cannot be shipped to AK

Equipment Needed: Crusader Duster  Garden Sprayer  Dial Sprayer

Products Needed: Demon (or TalstarDelta Dust    Maxforce FG*

*The use of ant baits in controlling ghost ants should only be used when you are unable to locate and kill ant colonies with other methods.  Use only small granular baits such as Maxforce FG.  Baiting for ghost ants is not a very dependable pest control method; use only as a last resort.

Spray with Demon (or other products containing Cypermethrin) in any area where you see ants foraging.  Along baseboards and window sills, under heavy appliances and in any openings where plumbing enters walls.  Spray around exterior of home, treating all cracks, crevices, entry points and hiding places.  Use Demon to drench ant colonies found outdoors.  Apply Delta Dust to all possible cracks, crevices and voids, both indoors and out.  Make a good inspection and treat any suspected ghost ant colonies.

Drenching: Mound drenching can be done to any outdoor ant mound.  This method is a quick and thorough method that will eliminate a mound, when done properly.  Do not confuse drenching with spraying;  spraying only effects the top layer of a mound, sealing off the rest of the galleries and enabling the majority of the ants to escape and re-locate.   The best active ingredients for drenching ant beds: Bifenthrin (Talstar), Cypermethrin (Demon, Cynoff).

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