Fans of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” who’ve read this headline are no doubt saying to themselves, “I’m not dead!” or another favorite line from the “Bring out yer dead!” scene in the movie. This was a good practice for humans during the plague and, not surprisingly, it helps ants maintain good health in their colonies as well.
Many insects remove corpses from their mounds, hives or nests. While the hygienic benefits of the practice are obvious, biologists often wondered what the measurable impact might be if the bodies were unable to be removed. Scientists at the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the Université de Liège in Belgium decided to find out.
They used common red ants (Myrmica rubra) which live in dense colonies of 1,000 or more ants working together to find food, care for the queen and guard the nest. Ten ants each from a number of colonies were frozen to death and placed back in the nests. Some were easy for the ants to remove while others were put in places that made removal impossible, such as spots with narrow openings.
According to the report published in the journal Biology Letters, at the end of the 50-day study the colonies that could bring out their dead were in good health. Those that could not had double the normal mortality rate, rising from 6 to 13 percent. Why?
… corpses artificially staying longer in the nest may have increased the occurrence of microorganisms, requiring a greater investment in the immune system for live ants and possibly resulting in a reduced lifespan.
While this study may seem unnecessary and the conclusion obvious, it’s always best to have proof. Especially if you’re not dead yet and don’t want to go on the cart … oh, don’t be such a baby.