Why Do Ants Carry Dead Ants: Mystery Revealed!

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Much like human beings carrying their dead to the grave, scientists have observed ants engaging in the same behavior. Now, the big question is why? Why do ants carry dead ants? It’s an interesting question with an even more interesting answer. So, let’s find out!

What is necrophoresis?

ants engage in necrophoresis

Necrophoresis is the process where ants carry their dead. This happens when an ant finds a dead ant and picks it up. It then takes the dead ant back to the nest, where it will be eaten by other ants.

Necrophoresis, all in all, is still a mystery to scientists, but there are several theories concerning its function.

One theory is that necrophoresis helps remove odors from the ant’s system. This could be beneficial because ants rely on their sense of smell to communicate and find food.

Another theory is that necrophoresis helps prevent infection by removing pathogens from the living space of an ant nest. By removing dead ants from the nest, necrophoresis may help keep the colony healthy and reduce the spread of disease.

Where do ants carry dead ants?

Ants engage in necrophoresis mainly to transport dead ants out of their nests. These ants move the dead ants to a burial ground of sorts, known as a midden. The primary objective of carrying ants to the midden is to prevent the spread of disease and contamination within the nest.

By transporting the dead ants away, the living ants are able to maintain a healthy and clean nest.

Why do ants carry dead ants or engage in necrophoresis?

why do ants carry dead ants?

Necrophoresis is a behavior observed in different social insects such as ants, bees, wasps, and termites, where they transport the deceased corpses of colony members from the nest or hive region.

Below, I have comprehensively explained the reasons why ants carry dead ants!

Dead ants can fertilize the soil around ant nests.

An ample amount of nitrogen and carbon can be found in dead ant bodies, which can also stimulate plant growth close to nests and support a rapidly expanding colony.

Carrying dead ants to a site helps establish a midden.

Another way to identify a location as a midden—the ant’s “dumpster” and burial ground—is through necrophoric activity. Ants frequently pick up dead ants to avoid unpleasant or hazardous environments.

Ants carry dead ants to keep their nests clean.

It turns out that there’s a fairly simple answer to it: they do it to keep their nests clean. Ants are incredibly fast when it comes to removing dead ants from the nest so that the bodies don’t start to decompose and release harmful toxins into the air.

Ants have an interesting and complex social structure that is still being studied by scientists. One of the things they have observed is that ants will carry their dead comrades to a special chamber in their nests called a midden.

This is where the bodies will be buried and allowed to decompose. Another fascinating behavior that has been observed is necrophoresis, when an ant dies near or inside another live ant’s territory.

When this happens, the live ant will often take over the dead ant’s duties, such as foraging for food or caring for eggs.

Ants carry dead ants to avoid contamination in their colony and keep the ant population healthy.

Necrophoresis also works as a form of kin selection in ants that allows the ant to avoid disease spreading through its colony.

By carrying the dead ants away from the colony, they are preventing the spread of any potential diseases.

Necrophoric behavior helps with pest control because other insects are less likely to invade an area where death has occurred.

Do dead ants attract more ants?

Yes, dead ants do attract more ants.

Yes, dead ants do, indeed, attract more ants. When an ant dies, it emits a chemical (pheromone) that signals to other ants and larvae/queens that food is available. This causes the other ants to swarm to the dead ant, where they will carry it away.

Interestingly, there are certain chemicals that dead ants give off which attract more live ants. One of these is called Oleic acid, and it signals both live workers and larvae, and even queens to the scene of the dead ant.

This allows for quick clean-up of the carcass, preventing any diseases from spreading.

When do ants avoid dead ants near them?

When an ant dies, the other ants will often remove the body from the colony. If there is still danger present, such as a predator or rival ant colony, they will avoid carrying the dead ant near them.

Further, if and when an ant dies near another ant, the live ant will often leave its companion behind. This is because ants are very sensitive to danger and will avoid any potential threats.

Do ants feel emotions of grief when other ants in their colony die?

There is still much unknown about the complex emotions that ants may or may not feel. However, it is safe to say that ants do not feel sadness in the same way humans do when a fellow colony member dies.

This is because ants lack some of the key components that are necessary for feeling grief, such as an understanding of death and an awareness of their own mortality.

Even the process of necrophoresis is simply a pragmatic approach taken by ants to protect the rest of their colony and the sanctity and hygiene of their nest!

Which other insects exhibit the behavior of necrophoresis?

Bees engage in necrophoresis.

Necrophoresis is the transport of dead organisms by living ones. In the case of ants, this behavior is exhibited when an ant finds a dead comrade and carries it back to the colony. This behavior has been observed in several other types of insects, including bees, wasps, and flies.

The reasons for this behavior vary but typically serve to benefit the colony in some way.

For example, transporting the dead helps dispose of the body, which can prevent the disease from spreading; or, bringing back food that has died allows the colony to recycle nutrients that would have otherwise been lost.

Bees engage in necrophoresis.

Necrophoresis in bees is the act of placing dead comrades on top of a nest. Necrophoresis is performed for many of the same reasons as ants: to keep everything clean and healthy.

Bees engage in necrophoresis for many different reasons, including keeping their nests clean and healthy, removing disease from the nest, and providing food for the colony.

Termites engage in necrophoresis.

Termites also engage in necrophoresis as a way to deal with their dead. Necrophoresis is the process of burying corpses. This helps keep the colony clean and free from disease.

Termites detect the death of their own the same way ants do – by changes in chemical structure.


If you thought that ants carry their dead comrades out of a sense of respect, you now know that you were wrong. The main reason that ants carry dead ants is for their own convenience and practicality!

About the author

A biotechnologist by profession and a passionate pest researcher. I have been one of those people who used to run away from cockroaches and rats due to their pesky features, but then we all get that turn in life when we have to face something.