Ants removing dead bodies of nest mates


Hello,

I briefly perused your blog and found it most interesting and informative. I have a question (similar to this one) regarding how ants deal with dead ants. Your answer is along the same lines of what I read in a published paper. I haven't had a chance to find it again. In that paper, the researchers cited the same reasons - nest hygiene. They further went on to state observations that ants will dispose of the dead at least 10" away from the nest entrance ('graveyard') and ignore dead ants outside the 'clean' perimeter.

I've had several invasions in our kitchen and have observed contradicting evidence. The closest a nest can be is several feet away if not more (definitely not 10"). After I have killed ants in the kitchen (a diluted solution of Dawn dish soap works well), more ants came which I killed. During the few minutes/hours I was able to sleep the ants carried away the dead. More ants came which I killed, and more dead were carried away. This went back and forth for about a week, but then one day, they had managed to remove all the dead ants and the invasion stopped. It appears the repeated incursions were to retrieve the dead ants versus scouting/invading.

I have observed this behavior at least three other times spaced out weeks to months apart. From my observations, the theory that removal of the dead is for nest hygiene does not apply. This is more reminiscent of 'no soldier left behind'.

I would very much welcome your thoughts on this. If I find the article I mentioned, I will send you the citation. There may have even been one or two more articles but my memory fails me.

Than you for your time and attention.
Gary


Hi Gary,

Thanks for contacting us and describing what you have been observing! This is indeed very interesting. There are more than 14,000 ant species and they are not all the same. However, from all the ants that I have observed, I have never seen that ants eat their dead nest mates. In your particular case I do even more believe that the ants were not after their nest mates for food as you used detergent to kill them. I don't believe ants would eat detergent. If eating is not an option, I would again suggest that they bring them to a grave yard. Maybe they considered your kitchen as part of their territory and wanted to keep it clean. Let me know if you (or anyone else) have any other ideas why the ants were removing the dead bodies. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team


Hi AntAsk,

Your hypothesis that the ants consider the kitchen part of their territory is very intriguing and quite possible if ants do extend their territory in such a manner. I do know that there are very large nests around, and probaby under, the house. I have also observed this behavior of retrieving the dead outside as well. One night there are hundreds of dead ants (killed with Raid) and the next day they were all gone. This happened several times also. Wind, rain, etc is not a factor and I'm not aware of any other insects that would carry away or eat ants. And I know there are no anteaters around here lol (I'm a UC Irvine alumni and our mascot is Peter the anteater!).

Thanks!
Gary


Hi Gary,

Thanks for getting back to us! This is quite an interesting observation and not having observed this behavior myself, it is challenging to come up with additional ideas. I find it particularly striking that the ants do not avoid other ants that had been sprayed with Raid.

All the best,
Steffi Kautz & the AntAsk Team



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