Are there insects that change their behavior upon detecting the nearby presence of other dead insects? If there are, can you provide an example?


1 Answer 1


Yes, it is a common behaviour and is called necromone signaling (Yao et al 2009, see references in paper for many examples), and is probably used to avoid predators, parasites and disease. The chemicals used are often similar (unsaturated fatty acids), and seem to have an old evolutionary history (~400 million years). Many groups of species can also detect infected, not yet dead, conspecifics. Removal of dead individual is also common in e.g. ants (necrophoric behavior).

The paper referred to earlier (beside reviewing earlier evidence) also provides experiments of detection/avoidence in isopods and Tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum), where they show avoidance based on crushed conspecifics, unsaturated fatty acids and (for isopods) intact corpses.

Naturally, the same type of compounds are used by e.g. species of carrion beetles (Silphidae) to find their animal hosts, but then for the purpose of reproduction.

  • $\begingroup$ Ants respond by eating the dead insect, except if it is one of their own, most of the time. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 12, 2013 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ True. I originally read the questions as asking about detection of dead individuals of the same species, but I now see that this is not entirely clear. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 11:22
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ The experiment where a live ant is 'painted' with necromones is one of my favorites. The painted ant is repeatedly carried out of the nest (and will aid other workers in carrying itself), and then walks back into the nest. $\endgroup$
    – Resonating
    Commented Aug 17, 2013 at 19:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .