Ghost ant

harms people

lives in trees

lives on ground

night active

day active

Scientific name: Tapinoma melanocephalum

Size: approximately 1.5 mm

Colour: pale, almost translucent, antennae, legs and abdomen. Head and thorax are dark brown

General description: this very tiny ant is distinctly two-coloured. It emits the smell of rotten coconuts when disturbed or crushed

Habitat and nesting: the ghost ant is a ground or tree dwelling species that establishes readily in disturbed habitats. The ant nests in plant stems, dry grass, leaf litter, rubbish and debris. 

Rate of spread: unknown.

Distribution: see our invasive ant distributions page for the worldwide distribution of the ghost ant.

Reproduction: unknown, most likely by budding.

For detailed descriptions and identification of ghost ants:

PIAkey: Tapinoma melanocephalum (see diagnostic characters tab)

AntWeb: Tapinoma melanocephalum


Ghost ants foraging on flowers (© Phil Lester)

Close-up of a ghost ant worker (© Eli Sarnat, Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike CC BY-SA Licence)

Ghost ants foraging on a sugar bait (© Eli Sarnat, Creative Commons Attribution, Share Alike CC BY-SA Licence) 

Social, agricultural and environmental impacts of the ghost ant

The ghost ant is a pest in homes where it is attracted to sweet substances and can be a major annoyance in kitchens. Some people experience a mild, red skin irritation after contact with this species. This ant has been reported to tend sap-sucking insects, however, it is not considered a significant agricultural pest.

Information sources

AntWiki, Ghost ant

Biosecurity New Zealand Invasive Ant Threat Information Sheet number 32, Ghost ant

Global Invasive Species Database (GISD)

Global Register of Introduced and Invasive Species (GRIIS)

Island Biodiversity and Invasive Species Database (IBIS)

PIAkey, Ghost ant

University of Florida, Ghost ant

Content reviewed by Eli Sarnat, Antwork Consulting, LLC, June 2017

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