As if straight out of a horror film, our Airstream has been overrun by ghost ants. This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen bugs in the trailer, because bugs are an undeniable consequence of living outdoors, and a way of life. However, while occasional spiders, love bugs, moths, gnats, no see-ums, and mosquitoes have all managed to infiltrate our home at one time or another, it’s not until recently, that so many unwelcomed six-legged insects have made themselves comfortable without an invitation.
Long considered a well-established resident of South Florida and other tropical and subtropical environs, Tapinoma melanocephalum workers are thought to have illegally immigrated from Asia or Africa–where to this day, as an affront to our democracy–they continue to worship their queen, while spreading their vermin and contaminating our food.
Despite their small stature, at 1.3 to 1.5 mm long, I’m certain that had there been a border wall to protect us from this infestation, these pests would never have gone on to infiltrate the foundation of our trailer, and rob us of our American dream.
And had the FBI taken notice and properly profiled these larvae from the beginning, none of this would have ever happened. To be sure:
They have 12-segmented antennae with the segments gradually thickening towards the tip. Antennal scapes surpass the occipital border. Head and thorax are a deep dark brown with gaster and legs opaque or milky white (Creighton 1950). The thorax is spineless.
The gaster (swollen part of abdomen) has a slit-like anal opening which is hairless. (Smith and Whitman 1992). The abdominal pedicel (stalk-like structure immediately anterior to the gaster) consists of one segment which is usually hidden from view dorsally by the gaster (Creighton 1950). Stingers are absent.
The small size, combined with the pale color, make ghost ant workers hard to see (Smith and Whitman 1992).
At the very least, these ants have been extremely annoying, invading every part of the Airstream in a matter of days. We discovered them in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the closet, in the bedroom, and ON MY PILLOW! EWW! Leah has been reflexively swatting phantom bugs from her arms and legs at the the very thought of our new colonists.
Quickly, ants were now to blame for every miscellaneous skin bump, itch, or irritation on her body.
While camping at John Dickinson State Park in Jupiter, it was hard to ignore the many ant hills throughout the sites. I backed the Airstream into stall #43, and soon located several small cones of sand with limited ant traffic. Being careful to not disturb them, I thought they might return the favor, but the ants had a different agenda.
“Oh my God!” shrieked Leah. “They’re everywhere! They have to be stopped!”
Leah laid into the ants like they were ISIS terrorists. Her flip-flop was a particularly effective weapon in her campaign to eradicate the enemy. WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
“Gotcha!” she bellowed.
She came down hard on the ants, but there was no quit in their little legs as they they rebounded in their crazy dance, scurrying around in all directions at once, before darting into their hiding places–provoking her ire and igniting her wrath.
“We’ve got to do something!” she vowed.
A trip to the garden section of Home Depot offered several interesting choices that promised instant relief, but we opted for Raid. Somehow, the notion of killing ants with a lightning bolt stirred our sado-masochistic sensibilities.
After returning to the Airstream, Leah tore into the packaging with a vengeance. Out popped eight plastic bait traps, looking like a mini Buster Keaton pork pie hats.
Declaring all-out war on ants, we strategically scattered them around the Airstream, often debating the locations of the most effective kill zones. For the most part, I acquiesced to Leah’s judgement, so long as I secured rights to wage war in the bathroom, which I considered my domain.
I closely observed the ants racing inside the aluminum channel along the wall, and knew exactly what I had to do. I wedged one of the little white poison pucks behind the soap dish, and waited for the feeding frenzy. After a minute or so, a curious ant came to inspect the trap, as if the Sirens were luring it to its certain death…
…and swallowed it whole.
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “One by one, you will eat the poison and die!”
I launched into my end-zone victory dance with a firm belief that we were now winning the war on ghost ants like never before. And that there will be so much winning, that we will tire of winning so much.
**Feature Image: Ghost ant worker, lateral view. Drawing by Division of Plant Industry**