Tapinoma melanocephalum is an ant species that is capable of thriving within a variety of environmental conditions both indoors and outdoors. Because of their unique adaptability, T. melanocephalum, or the “ghost ant,” has spread to every continent with the exception of Antarctica, making it a “tramp ant” species. Like most tramp ant species, ghost ants easily spread throughout the world by means of all types of international travel, including maritime trade, air-freight, and recreational travel. In fact, their remarkably small size and ability to establish nests within cracks and other microhabitats allows ghost ant colonies to survive long periods within carry on luggage and electronic goods, plant materials, and clothing products that are shipped to all corners of the globe.
Like all tramp ant species, ghost ants have achieved invasive pest status in virtually every region where they have been introduced, and they are one of the most commonly intercepted exotic ant species at coastal ports in the US, Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries. Despite their tropical origins, ghost ants survive temperate northern climates by nesting solely within structures, particularly greenhouses. Amazingly, colonies have been found as far north as Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada where numerous nests had become established within an apartment complex. Although ghost ant colonies were found in Texas for the first time as recently as 1994, they have since become one of the most commonly encountered ant pests within homes throughout much of the state.
In the US, ghost ants have established a permanent habitat in the states of Florida, Hawaii, Texas and Kansas where they dwell exclusively within manmade environments. According to a recent nationwide survey of pest control professionals, ghost ants were the eighth most commonly managed ant pests within homes throughout the country during 2016, which was a surprising find considering that the species inhabits only three states. In central Texas homes, ghost ants can readily establish several well concealed nesting sites within just about any indoor location or object imaginable, such as plant stems and cracks and crevices on floors, walls and within wall voids and ceiling voids.
Workers are 1 to 2 mm in body length, but their commonality, pale color, disagreeable odor and fast and erratic movements make them recognizable to pest control professionals. Workers are often found emerging from between shelved books, electrical sockets, light fixtures, sink drains and kitchen cabinets where they seek out sweet-tasting food sources. Much like Pharaoh ants, ghost ants live with many queens in colonies that readily multiply by splitting, or “budding,” but they follow defined foraging trails that, if followed, will eventually reveal the location of indoor and outdoor nesting sites. Because of their taste for sweets and trail-following behavior, ghost ants can be controlled with baiting strategies.
Do you think that you may have encountered ghost ants within your home before?