Insect Funerals

Humans have elaborate rituals to celebrate the life of a recently deceased individual. We respect and honor our dead, throwing them lavish parties and entombing them in sacred spaces. You might be surprised to discover that social insects such as bees, ants, and wasps also mourn their dead. Many of us already know of the different positions within these colonies such as the queens, workers, soldiers, and drones. What you might not know is that they also have undertakers that fulfill roles much like our own human undertakers.

The main reason for this character in their society is similar to our own. Insects that die within the colony must be taken care of or their bodies would block the nest and, more importantly, become vectors for diseases that could endanger the rest of the colony. The undertaker’s job is to detect a corpse by sensing the change in its chemical signature, inspect the body, and then haul the body out of the nest. From this point on what happens next varies from insect species to species. Ants actually bring their dead to well-formed cemeteries where they then lay the bodies evenly spaced apart, much like our own human cemeteries. So, the next time you kill an ant you might want to remember that there’s an ant family out there that will never be able to bury their loved one.

Did you know that some insects had rituals for dealing with their dead? Do you know of other species that mourn their dead? How do they do this?

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