This Halloween, just what sort of trick-or-treaters might make it into your kitchen _ invited or not _ and chow down on any cookie, cake or candy in their path?
If you live in Florida, from Orlando on south _ or anywhere with a tropical climate _ your teentsy-weentsy, hard-to-see, sweet-eating pest might well be the mighty ghost ant.
Ghost ants are aptly named, said Phil Koehler, an entomology professor at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The pesky little bugs have a black head and thorax, with a pale, gray body. They're only 1 millimeter long _ about the size of a pin head.
They also move quickly and are hard to track back to their underground nests.
The overall impression they leave is of something tiny, nearly transparent _ and really interested in sweets of all sorts in your kitchen or pantry.
How do they get in?
"They are often found in plant material brought into your home. They generally live in just about anything outdoors _ in plants, plant products, wood and soil," said David Williams, a UF adjunct professor of entomology.
Williams has been trying in recent years to develop baits to attract ghost ants, then kill their colonies.
"In the indoors," Williams said in a UF news release issued Wednesday, "they can move into interior walls _ or live in book bindings. They can live just about anywhere."
While UF researchers are currently testing a bait they hope will attract ghost ants, Williams and Kohler admit there's just no truly effective insecticide out there right now for getting rid of ghost ants.
"Most baits we have now don't work well," Koehler acknowledges, "because of their high dosages, which kills the ants before they can get back to the nest to the others."
But not all features in the ghost ant repertoire annoy humans. In their defense, ghost ants do not sting, or bite. And they also enjoy dining on mites that attack plants.