Back in July this year we recorded the video below. It shows a Lasius niger worker ant using its considerable strength to move the dead body of a fellow ant. This is likely a behaviour known as ‘Necrophoresis’, where dead individuals are removed from the nest for sanitation reasons, a behaviour often seen in certain Hymenoptera (Wasps, Ants and Bees).
Like many we were aware that ants possess incredible strength and also vaguely aware that dead ants were often moved some distance from a nest to protect the colony from potential diseases. The term Necrophoresis was something we hadn’t come across before and it would be interesting to see it in other species.
However what we seem to be looking at above is the removal of a dead queen! As we touched upon in a previous post back on new years day, Lasius niger queens have an extraordinary longevity for a species this size, typically surviving for 15 years (records of up to 29 years have been made). As such we wondered if we had filmed something unusual and were perhaps witnessing the death of a colony. As once the queen has perished the colony has no means to replenish its numbers and gradually dies off. Although new evidence suggests some species can ‘promote’ certain worker ants (which are female) to queen status.
It turns out a more likely explanation for Lasius niger is that the worker ants resorted to ‘Regicide’ and killed the queen themselves. Apparently, this happens near the time of the formation of the colony. From time to time more than one queen will help Found the colony. After a short interval and once the first worker class has been produced, all but the most productive queen are killed by the workers. The short video below was taken the day after the one above, in roughly the same location and appears to show another worker ant disposing of the abdomen of a queen ant, we assume a different individual.
It seems royalty does not protect one from Necrophoresis in the world of Lasius niger and what we possibly witnessed above is an ant preforming ‘Undertaker’ duties and removing the unwanted queens corpse.