Tapinoma melanocephalum

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Ghost ant
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Formicidae
Genus: Tapinoma
Species: T. melanocephalum
Binomial name
Tapinoma melanocephalum
(Fabricius, 1793)

Tapinoma melanocephalum is a species of ant that goes by the common name ghost ant. They are recognised by their dark head and pale or translucent legs and gaster (abdomen). This colouring makes this tiny ant (116 of an inch, 1.5 mm) seem even smaller.

Workers feeding on apple

The ghost ant's diet consists mainly of sweets but they will also feed on grease and occasionally living or dead insects. They exhibit a high need for moisture, and although colonies are usually established outside, they can readily "set up camp" inside domestic houses during dry conditions.

This is a widespread tropical species, found throughout the world. Its native range is unknown.

The ghost ant is thought to be so named because the legs and abdomen of the insect look transparent, with only the head and thorax being dark brown in colour.

Observed in infested buildings with the naked eye they are quite difficult to distinguish from pharaoh ants, being virtually of the same size.

Like a lot of small insects a positive identification can only be made once is a specimen is looked at through a microscope.

The worker ants form trails like pharaoh ants, taking food back to the nest, and also like pharaoh ants, the queens are communal, so that there can be several queens in a colony, and several thousand workers. New colonies can be formed when a queen and some workers migrate away.

Pest control[edit]

One laboratory evaluation in 1996 [1] tested 1% boric acid in a sucrose solution, against a few ant species including ghost ants. With a three-day continuous exposure to boric acid, the number of ghost ant workers was reduced by 97% and by the 8th week all ghost ant queens were eliminated. Interestingly they found that with hydramethylnon (an active ingredient in a ready to use bait) none of the ghost ant colonies was eliminated.

A new development in the U.K is that the availability of some concentrates has been phased out due to the influence of the European legislation such as the Biocide Directive.

This ant has another, less often used, common name, "tiny yellow house ant". In Malaysia they are known as "corpse ants" because of the unpleasant odour they secrete when crushed.


  1. ^ John Klotz (1996). "Laboratory evaluation of boric acid liquid bait on colonies of Tapinoma melanocephalum, Argentine Ants and Pharaoh Ants". Journal of Economic Entomology 89 (3): 673–677. 

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