What to do this week
By Mark Govan, Host “Florida Gardening” on 970WFLA Live on Sunday’s 7-9am
Ghost Ants and how to control them in Florida
Heavy rains have given a rise to one of the most problematic pests’ homeowners in Central Florida have had to fight for quite some time. These pests invade our structures, occupy our homes, and are prolific breeders. Of course, I am talking about “Ghost” ants. These ants have spread from the tropical regions of the Caribbean to Manitoba, Canada, and they are still on the move. In Florida, Ghost ants are well-established and are one of the primary reasons’ homeowners and businesses call pest-control companies. In my business, these ants are the number-one pest we are called upon to control inside structures. In this article, I will tell you how to identify Ghost ants, where they can be found nesting, and what you as a homeowner can do to control this pest. Let’s get started.
Who would think that a pest so small (1.3 to 1.5 mm long) could cause such distress? The problem is that these tiny ants have multiple queens and numerous egg-laying females. One of the key identification marks you can use to identify these ants from other ants is their clear abdomens. Their head and thorax, the first two parts of their body, are dark brown to black. This is in stark contrast with their abdomen, which is clear or “Ghost” colored. This difference is best seen with a magnifying glass and some white paper. These ants do not form trails unless they are returning to their nests with food. Otherwise, they tend to look disorganized in their search for their next meal. When accidentally crushed by homeowners, these ants emit an odor that smells like coconuts. Proper identification of these ants is a key component of their control program. Collecting a few of the scavenging ants on a piece of clear tape can aid in the identification process.
Indoors, sub-colonies can become established quickly. Each sub-colony may contain multiple queens, which freely exchange workers between sub-colonies along their odor trails. Nesting sites include small cracks in baseboards, clothes bins, potted plants, inside dishwasher cabinets, behind books, wall voids, and inside receptacle outlets. Outdoors, these ants nest in the mulch, in flowerpots, in holes in trees, and under palm fronds.
Ghost ants feed on proteins like dead insects found in the home on window ledges, under refrigerators, and those left in inaccessible areas. On the outside of the home, they feed on honeydew, a sweet substance excreted by insects like aphids and scales. They will even go as far as to protect these sap-sucking insects and move them from plant to plant to increase their yield of honeydew. Even though these ants do not have a stinger, their foraging can cause alarm to most people. Ghost ants also like sweets and it is common to see them in sugar, on cakes, or sucking up syrup left on tables after a pancake breakfast. The best way to inhibit these ants from nesting inside your home is cleanliness.
Wiping off counter tops and sweeping floors regularly will help keep foraging ants off your tables. Wet mopping floors and cleaning off window sills can also help eliminate their food source. Store leftover food in re-sealable containers. When trails are spotted, you may be able to locate the nests by following the trail. Take precautions by caulking entrance holes in your homes stucco, and around windows and doors. Sealing voids in cabinets can also help eliminate nesting areas conducive to colony growth. You should also consider cutting back shrubbery that is touching the home and tree branches that are touching the roof. Gutters should be kept clean to reduce nesting sites.
Ornamental plants, including fruit trees should be kept insect free by applying insecticides regularly to control honeydew producing pests. If you can stop the food source of Ghost ants, then you can reduce populations of them in and around your home. Another effective tool you can use outside in combating ants from entering your home or business is to spray a band of Termidor one foot up and one foot out along the foundation of your home. Although Termidor is normally used to control termites, this product is a fantastic control for exterior ants. Inside your home, you should use a product called Advion Bait. Advion is a gel bait you can apply along their food trails. Apply BB sized placements directly in the path of Ghost ants. They will feed on the bait and take it back to the colony where they will infect the rest of the ants. Do not apply products like Raid or other quick kill products. All these products do is to force the colony to move or branch out into other areas of the home. You may get immediate relief from these quick kill products, but the ants will return in force.
Ghost ants may be small, but their multiple colonies can take over a home in a short period of time. Make sure you collect a sample of these pests and have them properly identified by a professional. Wipe off counter tops and sweep up floors regularly to remove any food these ants can feed on. Trim back any foliage touching the home and spray outdoor food crops to limit honeydew producing pests. Read labels on all products before you apply them or hire a professional to perform this service for you. With a little work, you can eliminate these pests from the home and enjoy your landscape again. Keep listening to “Florida Gardening” for pest alerts and remember without plants, we would not be here!