Each culture has their own grieving processes and mourning rituals, but do ants as well?
Ants become the pallbearer
With all the hustle and bustle of ants on the move throughout the colony, you might not think that they take the time out to have funerals and a grieving process. If you were to observe them in action, you would actually see them doing things that appear to be like the usual western funeral.
After a few days the dead ant is carried off and placed on the “ant graveyard” by the other dead ants. This may seem like ants have complex feelings and need a few days to grieve before they dispose of the body, but in reality it’s far more chemical than that.
In most cases, ants work completely on pheromones to find their way around and locate food sources, so their ability to detect chemical signals is off the charts. When an ant dies, they start to break down and decompose after a few days and they start to emit an acid called oleic acid.
This has a unique scent that distinctly lets the other ants know that their other ant friend is not among the living anymore. The ants then know to add the dead ant to the “ant graveyard.” Before the dead ant starts to emit that acid, the other ants are actually none the wiser.
So much for mourning, more like, “you smell bad, so time to go”
Turns out ants don’t really mourn or grieve or even have graveyards for the same reasons we as humans do. It all comes down to chemicals and smells and pheromones.
Some scientists even tried spraying living ants with the oleic acid and the other ants immediately started carrying them off to the graveyard pile with the other deceased ants – business as usual.
It turns out that the ant graveyards are more of a garbage dump to them than anything else. Ants have what are called a “midden” and they act like little garbage dumps.
Ant colonies can be very sensitive and can be destroyed by certain bacteria, fungus, and more. Ants “take out the trash” frequently, including their fallen comrades, to keep their colony safe.
You also might notice some increased ant activity when you are treating for ants and are killing them around your home. Since ants really just rely on instinct and pheromones they can detect a large group of recently deceased ants and it signals them for clean up duty.
Make sure that you remove any dead ants as quickly as you can, as large groups of dead ants can actually attract more ants rather than driving them away in fear. The ants don’t have feelings so they simply just think they are doing their jobs by cleaning up when they detect the scent of oleic acid.
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