Do ants carry away dead ants? (Tom, Perris, CA)


I just read your answer regarding "social carrying" by ants, but it doesn't explain what I think I am seeing. I have often seen ants picking up and carrying away the bodies of dead ants. It's almost as though they are acting as morticians. I've never seen what they actually do with the bodies. Is this a type of behavior that is normal, or am I being fooled into thinking that the ants being carried are dead when they are actually still alive? I have been waging a never ending war with the Argentine ants that have apparently taken over the inside of the walls in my house; and my backyard and the wall around my house and on and on and on throughout the entire neighborhood...... I've tried virtually everything to get them to leave but quite frankly over time I have found their behavior absolutely fascinating. You might say I have an ant farm with about a half a billion members. At any rate, do they actually have a job like a funeral director?


Tom,

Thank you for sharing your observations with us. Ants are really fascinating with elaborate behaviors and what you are observing is hygienic behavior. The ants want to carry away the dead nestmates and dump them somewhere far away from the colony. The reason is simple: If the ant had died from an infection, the risk is reduced that more nestmates will get that infection when the body is removed. There is a really great YouTube video on the life cycle of an entomophatogenic fungus (entomopathenogenic means pathogenic to insects from the Greek ἔντομος, entomos = insect). In this video you also see a short passage of an infected worker being carried away.

Leaf cutter ants and other ant species have special areas where they deposit dead bodies, these areas are basically graveyards. Leaf cutters nest in the ground and the higher evolved species have a very elaborate tunnel system with specific chambers for different purposes. Among these chambers are dumps and with the heat produced by the composting process, the entire system gets ventilation. A really amazing YouTube video on the nesting system of leaf cutters can be found here.

All these observations tell us how cool ants are and that the many different ant species all have some really fascinating peculiarities. Keep contacting us with your observations on our blog if you want to find out more about what the different behaviors could mean.

Best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team

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