Thursday, August 1, 2013

When Animals Grieve - Insect "Undertakers"

Insect "Undertakers"

Indeed one of the smallest living creatures on our planet — the lowly ant — has demonstrated behavior that bears a striking similarity to that of humans dealing with death. Ants are social insects, living in colonies where each ant has a certain social role to play, as well as specific chores to carry out. And some ants are responsible with handling the colony's dead. These tiny undertakers are tasked with removing deceased ants to whatever is designated as their "cemetery'”. Those who study ants, particularly warring ants, also report that this species of ants remove their dead from the battlefield, dragging them back to their colony.

There's a species of European wood ants that tends to get involved in long bloody ant wars. And in those cases, the victorious ants bring the dead ants back home to eat because they're rich in protein. This type of behavior — eating their dead — seems to be specific to that particular type of ant, rather than reflecting general ant behavior.

Honeybees, another species of social insects, are so fastidious about their living quarters that if an intruder such as a field mouse enters a hive and dies inside it, the resident bees will try to remove the remains. Should those removal efforts be unsuccessful, the bees will embalm the corpse in resin collected from neighboring trees, according to professor Gene Robinson of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

(Next Week... Tears in the Ocean")