Monday, September 3, 2012

Introducing the Ghost Ant

        No you are not going to see this ant on any SyFy channel episodes of the series “Ghost Hunters” but more and more apparitions of this ant are appearing in homes in Texas.  I have had calls about this ant and received specimens that I have identified as the ghost ant, Tapinoma melanocephalum (Fabricius). Sightings of this ant are becoming more numerous around the Houston area.   
        Several pest control professionals in the Houston area concur that they are seeing more instances of this ant and have treated for them. Many people are confusing them with the Rasberry crazy ant. This is why it is extremely important to get any pest ant identified before jumping to conclusions.  If you have a sample to have identified you can bring them by the Harris County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office  or send directly to Texas A&M Center for Urban Entomology, form can be copied here: Insect ID Form.  The ghost ant can be controlled with various management strategies as long as you are patient and persistent in your attempts.  The Rasberry crazy ant is another issue.  I would much better have to control fire ants than the Rasberry crazy ant!!HER
Red Imported Fire Ant

Rasberry crazy ant

ghost ant

         Now back to the ghost ant.  Ghost ant workers are tiny (1/16 inch) and all the same size. They have 12-segmented antennae. Head and thorax are a deep dark brown (though I have seen the thorax a little lighter in color than the head) with abdomen and legs opaque or cream colored. Colonies readily nest outside and inside.
        This ant has been in Texas since the mid 1990’s.  Probably arriving through Galveston from a shipment of plants from Florida as per Dr. Jerry Cook, now with Sam Houston State University, as reported by the Texas A&M Agriculture News (now AgriLife Today) back in February 1997, link HERE AgriLife Today
         In that article Dr. Cook says “They’re really just nuisance ants. They don’t sting. They can’t really bite you and harm you, but they like to get into household foods and places that we just don’t like to see ants.”  This comment is exactly what I have been hearing from homeowners.  The presence of the ant is disturbing, and the homeowner just wants to get rid of it. 
          Dr. Bart Drees, Professor and Extension Entomologist for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, in the publication, Managing Household Ant Pests, addresses steps that should be taken when trying to manage ant pests such as the ghost ant.  For the most part many household pest ants can be managed with these actions. 
         Dr. Drees states that ants enter a home in search of food, water or a good nesting site, and there are things you can do to eliminate these resources inside and outside your home to prevent ant problems. I will reprint his management suggestions with my added comments in italics.  The total publication can be read HERE: Managing Household Pest Ants 

          Household ant management strategies:

  1. Keep your home clean. Clean up spilled foods and beverages and store foods in tightly sealed containers. (If pets are fed outside, do not feed them close to the house.  Also, pet food should be stored in a tight container whether in the house or in other storage areas.)
  2. If insects are producing honeydew on plants close to the house, control these insects. Ants are attracted to honeydew. (Attempt to control aphids, whiteflies and other insects that produce honeydew on your landscape plants.  Move plants that can attract ants away from the home.  You may need to remove the plants completely until the ant population is under control.  This may mean pruning permanent landscape plants and removing ground cover.)
  3. Remove water sources by repairing dripping faucets and other plumbing leaks.
  4. Replace wet or rotten wood.  (Pay close attention to wet windows or rotting window sills.)
  5. Move mulch and landscape rocks away from the bottom of the foundation. Mulch and rocks keep the soil moist, which attracts ants.
  6. Remove nesting sites and keep ants from entering the house by caulking cracks and crevices. (Barrier sprays may also be considered for restricting ants from entering from the outside, read more about this in the text of Dr. Drees publication) 
  7. Replace worn weather stripping around doors and windows.
  8. Remove dense vegetation next to the house. (This may mean eliminating existing ground cover and drastically pruning or eliminating permanent landscape plants)
  9. Remove ivy that grows on walls.
  10. Clean out rain gutters. Ants may nest in gutters clogged with decomposing leaves and other debris.
  11. Store firewood away from the house.
  12. Trim tree limbs away from the roof and house. Ants may use them as bridges to gain access.
  13. Before you bring firewood or potted plants into the house, be sure they are not infested with ants.
  14. Clean foraging trails with a good cleanser to remove the pheromone trail that ants follow (hot soapy water or a good ammonia based cleanser is best).  If ants are seen on the outside of the house, you may want to wash the sides of the house to remove these trails.

        Generally, control of the ghost ant is not necessary except where the ant becomes a nuisance in the home or in outside buildings. Many times insecticides are not even needed if many of the outlined actions are followed.  Again, patience and persistence are admirable qualities when attempting ant management.  If further control measures are necessary, the ant is susceptible to a number of insecticides used in baits or as contact poisons. Dr. Drees does a nice job in discussing insecticides and baits.  It is worth reviewing the publication for the homemade boric acid bait recipe. If you are not comfortable with choosing a specific product, please call a pest control professional.  They will have the products to help manage these pests.  You still need to do your part and follow the actions outlined above so the efforts of the pest control professional will be more effective.
        For more on the ghost ant see a 2009 update to the University of Florida electronic Featured Creatures publication site on ghost ants, link HERE: ghost ants on Featured Creatures.
        Wikipedia also has a nice group picture of a colony of ghost ants, HERE: Tapinoma melanocephalum

        For your viewing pleasure I have linked to a couple of ghost ant videos on YouTube:

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