How to help families in Ukraine

Why Do Ants Carry Dead Ants Away? Do They Really Bury Their Dead?

Arts & Crafts
Learn more
Reading & Writing
Learn more
Math & Logic
Learn more
Sports & Active
Learn more
Music & Dance
Learn more
Social & Community
Learn more
Mindful & Reflective
Learn more
Outdoor & Nature
Learn more
Read these Tokyo facts to learn all about the Japanese capital.

Ants are naturally very social creatures and live, sleep and work together in huge colonies.

So, how exactly do they manage the death of one of their comrades in the nest? Do they really carry their dead away to bury them like humans do, or is it for some other reason?

An interesting fact is that once ants are close to death, they secrete a chemical that allows nearby workers to find them. The insects then carry the corpse of the deceased member of their species away. So, where exactly are they taking these insects? Are they taking them back to the nest? In this article, we will explore the fascinating world of ant behavior and find out why these tiny insects do the things they do!

What do ants do when they see a dead ant?

Some ants will pick up the dead ant and carry it away from the colony. They may bury the insect or just leave it somewhere else. No one is really sure why they do this, but it could be to get rid of the dead ant's scent so that other ants don't smell it and think there is a problem in the colony. It could also be because the dead ant might contain food that the living ants can eat. Whatever the reason, it's an interesting behavior to watch!

The most plausible reason is that ants simply see their dead as another resource - and ants do not like wasting any natural resources! They deposit the dead insects of their species into a pile a short way off from the colony (to prevent cross-contamination) and may use the pile as a form of emergency sustenance in case they are unable to find any food or wait till the bodies decompose so they can use them as fertilizer on their 'farms.' Ants may farm fungi or use tiny leaf cut-offs to grow food on a very small scale, so having fertile soil is of great help to them.

The behavior of carrying the dead members of the colony away in insects is called necrophoresis. This is a natural behavior that has been imbibed in the insects to keep their nest clean and prevent any outbreak of disease. This mirrors the human behavior of burying or cremating our dead.

Ants actually have special worker ants called undertakers, who carry out the task of transporting the dead back to the nest or away from it - whatever the need be.

Are ant burials a real thing?

Ants do not usually bury their dead. This is a common misconception because when ants die, their corpses are often removed from the colony by other ants. Ants will remove dead nestmates in order to clean and protect the colony. If you see an ant carrying another ant's body, it is most likely that the living ant is removing the dead one from the nest.

Some species of ants, such as carpenter ants, will move their dead comrades outside of the nest to prevent them from contaminating the inside of the colony. However, they do not actually bury them. Carpenter ants create small mounds of dirt over top of their deceased brethren to help protect them from predators and weather conditions. There have also been cases of ants transporting their dead comrades to other nests to start new colonies.

So, the answer to this query is: No, ants do not really bury their dead individually as humans do. They remove and protect them from the colony in order to keep it clean and functioning properly. If you see an ant carrying another ant's body, it is most likely that the living ant is removing the dead one from the nest.

Ants usually have a designated burial site inside the nest or a slight distance away from it.

Do dead ants attract more ants?

One hypothesis is that the dead ants release a pheromone that signals to the other ants that food is to be found. In addition, when an ant dies, its body decomposes and releases nutrients into the soil. This could also explain why ants are attracted to dead animals or plants. The nutrient-rich environment created by the decomposing corpse might signal to the ants that there is an opportunity for them to find food nearby.

Another possibility is that the dead ants act as a trail marker for the other ants. By following the trail of dead ants, the other ants can more easily find where the food source is located. However, in order to confirm whether or not dead ants act as trail markers, scientists conducted an experiment in which they placed different types of food (including both live and dead ants) at various locations around an ant colony. They found that the live ants could find their way back to the colony regardless of where they had been placed, but the dead ants were not able to leave a detectable trail. This suggests that dead ants do not act as trail markers for other ants.

Dying or dead ants tend to secrete oleic acid, which is a sign for other ant workers that it is time to take out the trash - which is the decaying body of the dead ant. Dead ants can prove to be a biohazard to the flourishing ant colony, and the priority of the worker ants is to keep the queen and all the other ants safe, so they transfer the corpses to a site slightly away from the colony, where they deposit the dead ant onto a pile of other bodies. The corpses then break down and can be used as fertilizer, and no longer are a risk for contamination of the colony.

The answer to why dead ants naturally secrete oleic acid is still largely unknown, but scientists have a few theories. One theory is that the chemicals help the ants to dissolve their own bodies so that their remains can be easily eaten by other animals. Another theory is that oleic acid acts as a deterrent against predators, making it less appetizing for them to eat an ant that has been poisoned with the acid. Still, more research is needed to determine exactly why dying ants secrete these chemicals.

Do ants get sad when other ants die?

The answer to this is unknown yet, but scientists are currently studying the behavior of ants to try and find an answer. Ants have been known to exhibit signs of sadness or mourning when another ant dies, which suggests that they may experience some sort of emotion in response to death. More research is needed to determine whether or not ants actually feel emotions when other ants die, but the possibility that they do is intriguing nonetheless.

Their behavior of 'burying' the ant may simply look like they are doing their job of transporting waste material away, but there may also be an emotional component of having lost their comrade. Ants are extremely social creatures, so it wouldn't be surprising if they actually form emotional bonds with their fellow workers and other members of the ant colony.

One thing that is for sure is that ants are very social insects and rely heavily on their colonies for survival. So it's possible that the emotional response seen in ants when another ant dies is simply a way of reinforcing the importance of cooperation and teamwork within the colony. Whatever the reason may be, it's clear that ants are capable of complex social behavior, and scientists have only just started to scratch the surface of what they know about these fascinating creatures.

If you notice an ant nest near your house and squish one of them, it won't be long before these social insects begin to swarm around the ant you just killed - the smell of the corpse most likely attracts them. These tiny undertakers will then carry the insect back to the nest. So, if you see any red ants around, it's advised not to squish any of them. If any more of them show up, you are in danger of being bitten by their tiny, powerful jaws!

Written By
Kidadl Team

The Kidadl Team is made up of people from different walks of life, from different families and backgrounds, each with unique experiences and nuggets of wisdom to share with you. From lino cutting to surfing to children’s mental health, their hobbies and interests range far and wide. They are passionate about turning your everyday moments into memories and bringing you inspiring ideas to have fun with your family.

Read The Disclaimer

Was this article helpful?