Monday, June 17, 2024
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What to do With Ghost Ants

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There are ghosts in my kitchen…and in the rest of my house as well.  Based on what friends have told me, there are ghosts in their homes, too.

One in Honduras reports that these same ghosts haunt his home, falling from ceilings onto unsuspecting guests, invading his dinner table, and sending his visiting American students into frenzies when they find ghosts in their beds.  I’ve even experienced them clinging to my arms and legs, and despite scientific documentation stating otherwise, they sometimes bite.

These ghosts seem to have insatiable appetites—for when I’m cooking (or more likely burning) food, I have to stand over the ingredients lest they stake a claim on hamburger buns, climb into cooling pots of vegetables, and wade through dishes of chutney.  Cooking, serving, and putting away leftovers has become the equivalent of a timed Olympic event.

I buy toothpaste based on what the ghosts don’t like—otherwise I find them clinging to the toothbrush bristles no matter how well I’ve rinsed and dried the brush.

I’m going broke buying double zipper-seal storage bags and expensive lock-lid storage containers with silicone o-rings in futile attempts to prevent the ghosts from partaking of cereals, beans, crackers, cookies, candy, and (again contrary to scientific documentation stating ghosts don’t eat salt) potato chips.

I now scoff at TV ads for these bags…a quart of spaghetti sauce held over a white-haired, little old lady’s head…I defy the makers to put a couple of cookies in one of these bags and leave it in the presence of the ghosts.  Spaghetti sauce may not leak out of the bags but the ghosts have no trouble getting in.

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A fraction of a teaspoon of water left in a sink drain strainer can draw dozens of ghosts in seconds as can a speck of peanut butter.  One spilled grain of turbanado sugar recently caused an invasion by the hundreds that took several hours to quell…they just kept coming and coming.

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If you live in the tropics, south Florida included, you probably have ghosts, too—ghost ants—those tiny, tiny ants that seem to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time due to their camouflage coloring.

Mere specks approximately 1/16th of an inch long, they have dark brown to black heads and ghostly white bodies.  They disappear as quickly as they appear, with schizophrenic movements making it almost impossible to follow them back to their nests.  Even if one can find a nest, destroying it will do little to eliminate the ghost ants because they live not in one large colony, as most ants, but in suburbs with many nests and multiple queens within each nest.

Ghost ants build their nests in leaf litter, in trees and bushes, in potted plants, in the ground, and within walls and ceilings.

Wall-dwelling ghosts in my home led to a shorting out of wall sockets when, in desperation at the constant stream of ants coming from sockets, I removed the face plates and—while I knew better—poured insecticide into the electrical boxes, hoping in vain that the liquid wouldn’t touch the wiring.  It did…off to the hardware store for electrical parts.

After obsessively buying gallons of insecticide I now know that all I did, according to several ant experts on the web, was irritate the ghost ants.  It seems that spraying simply causes them stress which leads to that nest dividing, moving, and procreating even more.

According to the experts, who also swear that ghost ants don’t bite, they eat sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins (which would explain the rapid decimation of other bugs’ bodies I’ve witnessed).  I’ve watched them attempt to imbibe my nightly toddy of cream liquor—and that really ticks me off.

Those who make insecticides offer all sorts of remedies for ant infestations including bait stations, sprays, gels, and powders.

Problem is, although many species of ants are listed on labels as potential victims, ghost ants are missing.  It seems that most insecticides contain ingredients whose particles are too large for the ghost ants to carry back to their nests.  Only a few of the worker ants die, while each of multiple queens in a nest continues to produce hundreds more ghosts every 45 days.

Following months of research I thought I’d found a fail-safe ghost ant poison.  After many visits to a large hardware/garden store, only to find the shelf space reserved for this ant killer always empty, I called my sister back in the states for assistance.  Her husband made the rounds of several nation-wide chain stores also to find their shelves bare—until finally a store manager told him the ant poison is now banned.  A day-long search for an illegal substance.

So what to do?

My Honduran friend claims that pure citronella oil (not the kind used in torches) mixed with water and sprayed heavily works…as long as one constantly shakes the sprayer while attempting to mix oil and water, and sprays every day, sometimes several times a day when it’s dry and the ghost ants are moving about.  But he’s complaining of a constantly sore arm and he’s only killing the worker ants, most likely just drowning them in the spray.

Another person tells me to mix borax-based laundry soap with pancake syrup.  Even if the syrup mix worked, I’d be left with a sticky mess so I’m not inclined to pour it all over my house.  Long ago I was advised by someone I didn’t like much that placing candles in pans of kerosene and lighting the candles would rid a home of all pests.  While I’m sure this method would work, I’m afraid I’d also rid myself of my home…I think she didn’t like me much either.

If any of our readers have a remedy for ghost ants, please contact me via editor@allatsea.net.  I’m open to all suggestions and will pass along those that work—so long as they don’t involve fire, dynamite, banned substances…or pancake syrup.

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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.

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