Do foraging ants carry dead ants back to colony for disposal or leave them where they died? I would think they would leave them behind just based on the energy expended that would be needed to transport them. If they brought the dead back to the nest that might indicate 'feeling' or 'emotion' which everybody seems to say is impossible.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Who's "everybody"? Neither I nor cognitive ethologists... Anyway, interesting question. $\endgroup$
    – user24284
    Nov 27, 2017 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Do ants really dispose of their own dead, and how/why? $\endgroup$
    – user22020
    Nov 27, 2017 at 18:58

1 Answer 1


Social insects can respond in different ways to nest mates corpses. They can bury them (sometimes "entombing" is used in the literature, especially in honeybees because they can seal cells or use propolis to build tombs), eat them ("cannibalism"), but most often a specialized group of workers takes care of carrying them outside of the nest, far from the colony. Usually the older workers specialize in undertaking behaviors, it has been hypothesized that this allows to reduce the risks of contamination because older workers are already more likely to die or have fewer social interactions than younger members of the colony.

Sun, Q., & Zhou, X. (2013). Corpse management in social insects. International journal of biological sciences, 9(3), 313.

What social insects do with the corpses wouldn't be a good indicator of emotions, simply because they may bring them back to eat them, or take them away to avoid contamination. Whether insects do experience emotions is a complex topic, the most advanced piece of work on the subject has been done on bumble bees:

Perry, C. J., Baciadonna, L., & Chittka, L. (2016). Unexpected rewards induce dopamine-dependent positive emotion–like state changes in bumblebees. Science, 353(6307), 1529-1531.


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