How Can I Tell the Difference Between Pharaoh Ants and Ghost Ants?

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Ants are important in keeping the ecosystem balanced, but these social insects may become nuisance pests once they find their way into walls’ voids. Out of the thousand species of ants in the world, pharaoh ants and ghost ants are 2 of the most common ant species that infest residential and commercial properties.

So how are pharaoh ants and ghost ants different from each other? The best way to tell pharaoh ants and ghost ants apart is their appearance. Ghost ants have dark-colored heads and thorax paired with white to pale yellowish abdomen. On the other hand, pharaoh ants have bodies that range from yellow to light brown.

Identifying Pharaoh Ants vs Ghost Ants

Having a few ants scurrying in the kitchen and taking some crumbs off the floor and kitchen counter is normal. But if these indoor pests show up too frequently, then you might be dealing with a bigger ant problem than you initially thought.

According to the National Pest Management, ants are present in about 80% of single-family homes and other residential properties. Most pest management companies have dealt with ant infestations at least once and most of them agree that this nuisance pest is getting more difficult to eradicate.

Pharaoh ants and ghost ants are 2 of the most common species of ants found in homes and commercial buildings, but people tend to confuse one with the other. Identifying the exact species of ants is important because it allows the pest control professional to determine which effective method works best to get rid of the pests.

Here are some of the similarities and differences between the 2 types of ants:

1) Appearance

These ants aren’t shy like rats and mice that avoid humans. They’re only small in size, but they won’t hesitate to gather crumbs from the kitchen sink, floor, countertop, and pantry if they need more supply of food.

Ants generally have a head, a body, 6 legs, and a pair of antennae. Their specific size, color, and shape depend on their species, but ants of the same species may still have different appearances based on their role in the entire colony:

Worker Ants

Ghost ants got their name because they’re difficult to spot thanks to their size and color. They’re only about 1/16 inch long with a dark brown head and thorax. Their 6 legs, as well as their abdomen, are usually pale yellowish in color.

Like odorous house ants, these ants also give off a distinct smell (like rotten coconut) when their bodies are crushed. They also have unique erratic movements that make them look like little spiders when disturbed.

Worker pharaoh ants are also only about 1/16 inch long with slightly translucent bodies that are yellow to red or light brown in color. They also have 3 segments on each club of their antenna and 2 segments between their abdomen and thorax.

Pharaoh ants got their name from the belief that they were one of the plagues that happened in Egypt when Pharaohs ruled, but these invasive species actually originated from Africa. Now, pharaoh ants are found throughout different parts of the United States.


Queen ants are the largest ones in the entire colony. For ghost ants, the queen of their nest is only slightly bigger than worker ants at 0.0098 inches or 2.5 mm. On the other hand, queen pharaoh ants grow up to twice as large as the worker ants at 0.157 inches or 4 mm. They also have enlarged abdomens that are bigger than the rest of their reddish bodies.

Winged Ants

Unlike other types of ants that have wings and swarm during certain seasons, ghost ants don’t grow wings. Virgin pharaoh ants may grow wings, but they can’t fly between places to swarm and mate with male reproductives. These queen ants typically shed their wings after mating.

2) Life Cycle

Ghost ants are usually moderate to large in size with about 100 to 1000 individual ants and multiple queen ants distributed across separate colonies or nesting sites. Instead of swarming like common ant species, ghost ants increase their population through budding or nest fragmentation.

Queen ghost ants are polygamous and would mate with male ants to produce eggs. A single queen may lay multiple eggs that hatch into larvae within 2 to 4 weeks. The larvae grow into baby ants and turn into a part of the ghost ant colonies through metamorphosis.

Pharaoh ants usually have thousands of workers, reproductives, queens, and soldiers in a single colony. Their ant colonies are often mistaken as large super colonies, but the multiple satellite nests are actually just a result of their reproduction process through budding – similar to what ghost ants do.

Queen pharaoh ants find nesting locations like floor and wall voids, between linen sheets, and inside books first before mating with the male reproductive ants. A queen ant lays about 400 eggs (around 10 to 12 eggs per batch) that hatch after 36 to 42 days. These larvae develop into adult ants, but those that turn into reproductive ants take a bit longer to fully develop.

3) Nesting Habits

When they’re outside, ghosts create nests or individual mounds in the ground. These pests are also fond of making themselves at home in the crevices of dead tree branches, under stones, in leaf litter, inside logs and tree stumps, and other plant debris in a yard. They may also enter homes in search of food and water then build nests in the wall void, baseboard, cabinet, and soil of potted plants.

As for pharaoh ants, they’re usually found under debris or other shaded areas. They can’t survive outdoors all year round so it’s normal to find them in homes and commercial establishments, including hospitals, commercial bakeries, food establishments, and more. They also prefer nesting in obscure areas near food and moisture sources.

4) Diet

Pharaoh ants and ghost ants have similar food preferences. They’re both opportunistic feeders that eat different sources of food available to them, but they’re especially fond of sweets and greasy food.

When they’re in the wild, both tropical species feed on the honeydew produced by aphids. They also eat the remains of dead animals or dead insects if the honeydew isn’t enough for the entire colony. Inside a home or commercial building, these insects eat sweet foods, oils, and proteins that they find.

5) Threats and Damages

Ant bites from both species aren’t painful so it’s unlikely for people to be injured by the little pests. However, some people might have an allergic reaction to the bite. Make sure to seek medical attention immediately if you have trouble breathing or the bitten site starts swelling.

The structural damage they cause is also minimal compared to more destructive pests like subterranean termites or carpenter ants that attack dead and sound wood. These invasive species are mostly considered a nuisance, but they may still be carriers of pathogens, viruses, and bacteria.

The presence of pharaoh ants in hospitals should be dealt with immediately because they’re notorious for bringing dozens of disease pathogens. They also cause extensive damage as they enter wounds and IV bottles. There are also instances in which pharaoh ants may enter the mouths of sleeping patients as they seek excess moisture.

Signs of Pharaoh Ants or Ghost Ants at Home

Regardless of their species, ants are the most annoying pest to possibly infiltrate your home. They’re difficult to spot because of their size, but they’re even harder to eliminate because of their number. The best way to deal with them is to stop the problem in its early stages, so homeowners need to be aware of the following signs of ant activity in their house:

  • Live Ants – Seeing a few ants running around the kitchen is normal, but it may also be a sign of a ghost ant infestation if the ants are too many or too quick to appear. Take a good look at the ant trail they form because it often leads to one of their many nests.
  • Ant Pathways – Ants form pheromone trails when coming in and out of their colonies. They give off pheromones that allow other ants to follow them to the food source and back to their nest.
  • Ant Nests – Most ant nests are easy to miss because they look like regular piles of dirt in the garden. But if ants started coming in and out of a slightly raised hump in your yard, avoid disturbing the ant mound and angering the ants that live there.
  • Rustling Noises in Walls – Rustling sounds inside walls are never a good sign. These ants like traveling or living inside foundation walls, so make sure to check the interior and exterior walls for small rips or holes if you suspect an active ant infestation.

Recommended Pest Control Methods for Pharaoh Ants and Ghost Ants

There are many ways to eliminate house-infesting ants, but many homeowners turn to natural repellents first because they’re accessible and easy to use. Some of the most effective control methods are diatomaceous earth and borax since they kill ants when touched or ingested.

While these homemade remedies and liquid baits are effective for eliminating some ants, they’re still inadequate control methods that can’t completely eradicate severe infestations. It’s still better to hire an experienced pest control company to take care of the problem. A pest control operator has the right tools and knowledge to get rid of the pests and prevent them from returning.

The Safest and Most Effective Pest Control Methods in Kansas City

Ant infestations are difficult to eradicate without the right extermination or pest control method. At Midway Pest Management, our pest management professional helps households and businesses around Kansas City get rid of ghost ants, pharaoh ants, white-footed ants, thief ants, pavement ants, and other common ant species for good.

Our integrated pest management (IPM) methods eliminate the common household pest without causing further harm to the environment and people around the property. We also recommend preventative methods after the extermination to avoid future infestations for a long time.

Our team at Midway Pest Management designs well-developed treatment plans for our clients after checking the state of the active infestation in their home or business. Contact us now to schedule a free inspection.

Learn More: What’s The Difference Between Ghost Ants and Fire Ants?