GAINESVILLE--- Florida homeowners may be haunted by more thanthe usual ghouls and goblins this time of year as ghost ants show up inkitchens in search of a sweet treat.
Ghost ants are pesky little insects who got their name by looking muchlike tiny, white apparitions who suddenly appear and seem to disappearjust as quickly. They don't sting or bite, but like any good trick-or-treater, ghost ants do have a sweet tooth and prefer nibbling on goodiessuch as cakes, candy and cookies.
Phil Koehler, an entomology professor with the University of Florida'sInstitute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, said ghost ants are both fastand small, averaging about 1 mm in length or about the size of a pinhead.
Ghost ants are most deserving of their name, Koehler said. With a blackhead and thorax and a pale, gray body, they are almost transparent,move quickly and are hard to track.
With no effective method for eliminating the critters, a home can beoverrun with little ghost ants in no time, said David Williams, anadjunct professor of entomology at UF/IFAS.
"They are often found in plant material brought into your home. Theygenerally live in just about anything outdoors -- in plants, plantproducts, wood and soil," Williams said. "In the indoors, they can moveinto interior walls or live in book bindings. They can live just aboutanywhere."
He said the search for a way to elimate ghost ants is as elusive as thepests themselves.
Over the past few years, Williams has been trying to develop baits toattract ghost ants and kill their colonies. He said they are testing anattractant now, but there is no effective bait or insecticide at this time.
Koehler said some liquid baits containing boric acid available over thecounter can work well, but should be diluted so the ant has time to getback outside to the colony before it dies. The best thing forhomeowners to do is to track where ghost ants may be entering thehome or building and seal off the opening to keep the ants outdoors,Koehler said.
"We could turn these ghost ants into real ghosts by killing them, but thebaits need to work slowly to affect ghost ants. Because they are sosmall, a normal bait would kill the ant too fast before it could get backoutside," Koehler said. "Consequently, most baits we have now don'twork well because of their high dosages, which kills the ants beforethey can get back to the nest to the others."
Koehler said ghost ant sightings occur mostly in warm climates and canbe a big problem in tropical areas of the world. In Florida, they arefound mostly from Orlando south, although they do occur as far northas Gainesville.
A good ghost? Although they can be a pest, they can also be beneficial in certain instances. For example, Koehler said, they do prey on and control mites that attack plants.
Materials provided by Institute Of Food & Agricultural Sciences, University Of Florida. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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