Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?

Insects do the most amazing things! From their kingdom, countless amazing facts had emerged over the years. One such amazing detail belongs to ants, which may be small, but they are one of the most complex creatures in the insect world. These ants carry the bodies of other dead ants and remove them from their colony. Isn’t that strange? But when it comes to animals or insects, there is always a way for them to go crazy! Their behavior patterns using intelligent adaptive techniques is one of the main reasons they survived all mass extinctions. Did you know that we are surrounded by about 10 quintillion insects on this planet?

Back to the trespassers of the insect world, ants carry carcasses from other ants for some reason. Let’s dig deeper.

“Nurturation” is the practice of some insects, which is the removal of carcasses from their colonies.

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?

Necrotophoresis is a hygiene technique. The word comes from the Greek word “nekros” which means “dead body”. The term was coined by E. O. Wilson and colleagues in 1958, but they did not discover this behavior. As early as 40 CE, Pliny Secundus, or Pliny the Elder who was a Roman author, naturalist, and natural philosopher, claimed that ants were the only organisms other than humans that buried their dead. But that is not true. In addition to ants, bees, wasps, and termites also indulge in necrotrophy. The word means “to remove dead nestmates.” This behavior acts as a health precaution to prevent any disease or infection from spreading through the colony.

How do ants recognize their dead comrades?

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Ants identifing their dead mate.

Most ants do not have eyes or ears. Then how do they know where the dead ants are? Ants, as a species, rely heavily on their sense of smell to search for food and return to their nests. They release pheromones when they travel from their nests to their destination. When the ant dies, the body releases oleic acid. When they smell oleic acid, they know it means death. Once the scent is recognized, swarms of ants follow the scent and rush to where the dead bodies are.

Why do ants remove corpses and move them to another location?

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Ant removing dead body

Ants consider dead ants a threat to their safety. When a dead ant is lying around, there are chances that it will spread disease that can spread to the colony and infect or kill healthy ants. Therefore, the reasons are not emotional. They carry off the carcasses as quickly as possible to keep their colonies disease free and healthy. An experiment conducted on a live ant sprayed with oleic acid showed that other ants deemed it dead and carried the ant away “to be buried alive”. Undertaker ants practice a form of social distancing by staying outside the nests or congregating at the entrance to prevent cross-contamination.

The ants carry the corpses of other ants to an ant graveyard called a meden.

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Ant Cemetery. Image credit: LaurenZarate/

Ants are intelligent insects. They build structures from dead ants and other waste called “mediators”. You can look at it like an ant graveyard. This is where they kind of dump all their rubbish – as well as the dead bodies of their friends. They move the bodies to the middle of the dugout and throw them on the mound (not exactly “buried”). There is no mourning, no feelings. It is like a ritual they diligently perform to preserve their gender.

What happens when the queen ant dies?

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Ant Queen in the nest.

The queen ant is the most important person in any ant story and has a huge role to play in running the hive kingdom. She is responsible for procreation and lays thousands of eggs. In an ant colony, numbers are everything. Hence, it is incomparable. When she dies, the ants also carry her corpse back to the camp. But back home, the outcome is not the same. The hive will no longer be able to reproduce and will die a slow death without new ants joining the family.

Here are three remarkable adaptations and survival habits that prove true as to why insects continue to rule the world and survive mass extinctions!

1 The killer bug is deadly and lives up to its name.

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Assassin bug

The killer bug might look funny with its long nose. But it is far from comical. They are deadly killers with the great power to liquefy their prey. Their red color is a red flag for others to stay away from! With its short, three-segmented beak, it pierces and stings its prey and sucks bodily fluids from the victims. Once the killer has recognized its next meal, it will search for a soft spot and stab with its blade-like beak. It releases toxic saliva that paralyzes prey in a matter of seconds, and its insides begin to molt. The victim molts, and believe it or not, the killer bug scurries to eat its dinner using its proboscis like a straw. Betta Acanthaspis is a species of killer insect that engages exclusively in one unusual behaviour. These insects wear their empty exoskeletons to reward dead ants like body armor. They don’t kill any other insects, just ants. Scientists claim that the carapace of ants gives them olfactory camouflage while hunting.

2 praying mantises eat each other during mating.

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Praying mantis mating

Love kills. For praying mantises, this statement is painfully true. It is similar to the violent Game of Thrones. When they mate, and after the male licks the female to her, his benefit ends. In true Queen of Hearts fashion, she “bobbles with his head.” The female praying mantis waits for the perfect opportunity after mating is over and eats her lover’s head. His dying convulsions then pump more sperm into her stomach. After devouring the head, it eats the rest of its body and feeds on it. This helps her lay approximately 200 eggs. So, do you see? A male praying mantis dies for a greater reason while never enjoying parenthood. Although no one knows if the males knew their plight before they committed it!

3 Bombardier beetles expel a hot liquid when attacked.

Why do ants carry the bodies of dead ants?
Bombardier beetle

Plenty of insects spew out deadly sprays or acids when attacked, but bombardier beetles have mastered chemical warfare. These beetles can create such a violent chemical reaction in their bodies that a boiling poisonous liquid, sometimes reaching 100 degrees Celsius, oozes from their abdomen. They can produce up to 500 bursts per second. This foul-smelling liquid can kill or scare away their attackers. These chemical bombs are the reason they are called “bomb beetles”. They have an elaborate internal network of tanks and chambers to control and synthesize these explosions safely, without cooking themselves! Bombardier beetles still fascinate biologists and scientists trying to study such a complex chemical reaction that takes place in seconds.


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