What’s The Difference Between Ghost Ants and Fire Ants?
Updated: May 2
House-infesting ants can come in different shapes, sizes, and colors. Two of the most common species that can be unpleasant to see indoors are ghost ants and fire ants. Although they are not known for causing structural damage, these ants can pose a potential threat to your health and safety. Knowing the difference between the two is crucial, so you can set up the right control measures to prevent their infestation.
So how can you distinguish between ghost ants and fire ants? Ghost ants get their name from their white and pale bodies, and they have unique sweet food preferences. On the other hand, fire ants have reddish to dark brown colors and they can eat almost anything from high-protein to sugary and greasy foods. Fire ants carry a greater danger to humans since they can deliver a powerful sting while ghost ants rarely do harm since they don’t have a stinger.
How to Distinguish Between Ghost Ants and Fire Ants
Among the thousands of ant species in the United States, the ghost ant and fire ant are the most common types of pests that can start an infestation indoors. These ants have their own unique characteristics, but to the untrained eye, it’s easy to mistake them for each other, especially since they are both small and often appear in a trail or grouped in large numbers.
To help identify whether you have ghost ants or fire ants, here are some of their distinct differences that you need to know:
1) Physical Features and Appearance
Since they are both insects, the anatomy and body compositions of ghost ants and fire ants are the same with a head, thorax, and abdomen. The main difference in their appearance is their body color.
Ghost ants are one of the light-colored ant species. They have a pale translucent abdomen and white legs while their head and thorax stand out with a dark brown color. They’re tiny and can measure about 1/16 inches long. They can be hard to spot when scavenging during the day since their physical appearance can conceal them on light surfaces.
Meanwhile, red imported fire ants can be easily recognized with their reddish-brown bodies and dark-colored abdomens. They have a strong jaw and a stinger which they can use to bite and deliver venom when their ant colonies are disturbed.
2) Common Diet and Eating Habits
Ghost ants are also called sugar ants because of their specific preference for consuming a wide variety of sugary foods. Some of the common foods that they like to eat are sweet honeydew from aphids and they can also feed on dead insects. When they are indoors, a group of worker ants can be seen looking for sweet food in the pantry and kitchen.
On the other hand, fire ants are an omnivorous species and they can consume both meat and plant food sources. They also have an appetite for sweet food like honeydew, nectar, sweets. Fire ants can also feed on living insects, spiders, and can prey on other dead animals and pests for food.
3) Habitat and Nesting Behavior
Ghost ants usually establish their colonies under the ground. Like most termite pests, they look for nesting locations near a moisture source such as behind tree stumps, loose bark, logs, and piles of firewood. They are commonly outdoor dwellers, but they can make their way indoors by traveling on tree branches and limbs that touch the foundation or exterior walls of the house. They can also look for cracks and holes that they can access from the outside.
Once inside the home, they can hide behind baseboards, inside the wall void, and crawl spaces. Their colony can also split to make satellite nests, which is why you can sometimes see trails of ghost ants traveling between nesting sites.
Fire ants are tropical species and they prefer areas that are warm and sunny, which is why they are often seen outside in the yard, lawns, and fields. They mostly build their nests or mounds in soil, but they can also live inside logs, bark of trees, and under the pavements or buildings.
4) Reproduction and Life Cycle
Both ants are social insects who live together with their colony. Ghost ants can have multiple nests containing at least a hundred to thousands of workers. These sub-colonies are formed through budding, which is a process where one or more female reproductives and broods of workers leave their primary nest to create a new one.
During the reproduction stage, the queens will lay eggs and undergo complete metamorphosis to become adult ants. It is said that one queen can produce at least 5 eggs per day and the development from egg to adult can last anywhere from 16 to 52 days. Ghost ants can only live for several weeks but they can multiply quickly to maintain their colony.
On the other hand, fire ants multiply and build new colonies through swarming. In their colony, they have a group of winged reproductives who will participate in a nuptial flight to find their respective mates.
After mating, the males will die and the female fire ants will land to search for a new nesting site where she will lay eggs. The queen will care for the larvae and once they develop into major workers, they will defend her and their entire colony. The queen ants can live up to 7 years while the workers can live about 180 days.
Ghost Ant or Fire Ant: Which Species of Ants Is More Dangerous?
As nuisance pests, ghost ants rarely cause property damage, but they can carry germs and bacteria and easily transfer them to the food that they find at home. The biggest threat that ghost ants have is the possible contamination of human food, which is why it’s advised to store any food supply in tightly-sealed containers that they can’t easily access.
Fire ants are known for their aggressiveness, and they have poisonous venom which can cause allergic reactions to some people. It’s important to note that fire ants won’t bite and sting for no reason. When you accidentally disturb their nests, fire ants will attack and use their jaws to hold onto the skin of the intruder before stinging with their venom. It’s best that you steer clear of their individual mounds or ant trails to avoid getting harmed by fire ants.
Dealing With Fire Ant Bites
Fire ant bites can cause immediate pain or burning sensation, and form swollen blisters or red spots on the skin. The itching, uncomfortable sting, and welts from a fire ant bite can last for about a week.
Most stings and bites can resolve on their own without needing any treatment. If pain and discomfort persist, here are some home remedies that can help:
Apply a topical hydrocortisone cream to manage itching
Place an ice pack or cold compress over the affected area to reduce swelling
Apply an antibiotic ointment to prevent possible infections when the blister wound is opened from constant scratching
Take over-the-counter antihistamine medications to relieve itching or localized allergic reactions
Signs of Ghost Ant and Fire Ant Infestation
In addition to having basic knowledge about their characteristics and physical features, here are other ways to know whether you have a ghost ant infestation or fire ant infestation:
You notice numerous ant mounds appearing after a rainfall
Similar to odorous house ants, they can emit a foul-smelling odor that resembles rotten coconuts
You see an ant nest without any entry and exit hole since fire ants like to dig and create underground tunnels
Visible sightings of feeding trails or active ghost ants on the kitchen counter, floor, or under the kitchen sink
They can also leave pheromone trails to help worker ants in search of food
They can also be seen traveling along foundation walls or sidewalks outdoors
Best Methods To Get Rid of Ghost Ants and Fire Ants
When you have an ant infestation, it’s ideal to consult with a pest management professional about the best possible treatment to exterminate them. Depending on the extent of your ant problem, here are some methods that they may suggest:
Ant bait treatment - Baiting is one of the most effective ways to eliminate a colony of ghost ants and fire ants. It works by setting up bait stations or a bait tray with foods mixed with a slow-acting insecticide. Using a fresh bait attracts the worker ants who will take it back to their colony and once they ingest the food, the poison will disrupt their digestive system and kill them. There are several types of baits such as sugar baits, granular baits, gel baits, and protein bait.
Ant mound treatments - These are liquid treatments, injectable aerosols, or dusts that contain a fast-acting bait or insecticide that can be applied to the ant nests. This type of ant treatment works best for the large mounds created by fire ants.
Insecticide sprays - You can use insecticide sprays on areas where ants frequent to repel them and control their activity. There are also sprays that can help eliminate fire ants on contact. It can be sprayed directly to visible fire ants or on their nests.
Best Measures To Make Your Home Less Appealing To Ants
Here are some preventive measures that can help avoid a possible ant infestation:
Maintain a clean house by regularly sweeping floors and kitchen counters to get rid of food particles and water spills
Seal any cracks, holes, and gaps around your home that may serve as an entry point
Avoid storing firewood piles indoors or near the house
Keep pet food and snacks in airtight plastic containers
Check plumbing structures and eliminate any excess moisture issues or water sources
Solve Your Ant Problems With Midway Pest Management
An important part of pest control is identifying which type of ant is invading your home. With Midway Pest Management, we have a team of expert pest control technicians who can inspect your house and determine the severity and source of your ant problem.
We offer a full range of professional pest control services to help keep your residences free from all types of ants including carpenter ants, fire ants, ghost ants, acrobat ants, and more. Our specialists are also experienced in handling other types of pests including termites, rodents, bed bugs, and birds. Contact us today to inquire about our ant infestation solutions or schedule a home inspection.