Why do Dead Ants Attract More Ants? Everything You Need to Know

dead ants attract more ants?

Why Do Dead Ants Attract Others?

When you squish an ant, chances are you’ll find plenty more very shortly. This is due to the fact that dead ants release pheromones that signal danger when they’re killed.

It’s not that they’re there to attack you, but quite the opposite. When an ant dies, other ants in the area will respond in case there is any danger. That’s the simple answer at least.

If you enjoy reading this article, why not check out our articles on Where do ants hide? Let’s find out and Ant Farms Gel vs Sand, Which is Best?

Why do ants pick up dead ants?

If you’ve ever seen a large number of ants, or stumbled upon an anthill, you may have noticed a dead ant being carried away by another ant. It is not uncommon to find a single ant carrying another, or even to see a group of ants hauling away a dead companion. This may have come as a shock to you, but the answer is actually simpler than you think, and you’ll definitely want to know why. Ants carry dead ants to reduce the risk of contamination or infection.

Why ants carry their dead?

Some insects, ants included, actually bring their deceased members away from their hive to a “cemetery.” While they may not directly bury their dead, it’s interesting to see how ants understand death on such a complex level.

You’ll want to pay close attention to where these ants take their killed members because chances are you’ll find more dead ants in the same place. This is due to the fact that ants actually build structures called a midden. Ants are extremely strong – so strong that we wrote a whole article about it! Read it here: How Strong Are Ants Compared to Humans?

What’s a midden?

When thinking about an ant midden, think about it as an ant dumpster. Ants will carry away waste, contamination, and even their deceased hive members. Therefore, not only is a midden a form of ant dumpster, but it also serves as a burial ground.

The midden, in the world of ants, is a sacred and grimy place. This is where an ant hive will dispose of waste, corpses included. The interesting fact is that they’re not that far off from cemeteries, and shows that ants share some similarities with human beings.

Do dead ants attract more ants?

Do dead ants attract more ants

Dead ants will definitely attract more ants. As we’ve briefly mentioned during the intro, dead ants release pheromones upon death. Once they’re fluids flow out, other ants in the area will get a signal of danger.

If it’s a danger signal, why would that attract more ants?

While it may be a signal that represents danger, that doesn’t mean that it instantly scares ants off. Ants are actually pretty smart creatures, and they’ll tend to investigate their dead hive members before carrying them off. This can cause quite a few ants to show up once they come across a dead member of the hive and might be the main reason you end up seeing them.

If you killed an ant that was on you, and it’s a species of ant that bites, you could end up in quite a bit of trouble once its friends show up. Luckily, most of the time, ants will view you as a threat and scurry away. Fire ants are the ants you need to worry about in this case.

Do ants play dead?

Not a lot of insects have the mental or instinctive capacity to play dead, but with ants, that’s a different story. While this doesn’t occur in every species of ants, recent studies have actually shown that some ants do happen to play dead when danger presents itself. So while some ants will definitely play dead, it’s actually quite a rare sight to behold. This is likely due to the fact that hive genetics play a role, and there is quite a variation between ant species as well.

What species play dead?

Fire ants tend to be the most common species when it comes to playing dead because these ants are actually quite aggressive towards other hives. Therefore, if an enemy troop comes to investigate what appears to be another dead ant, that ant actually might instead just be faking it. Plus, moments later, it might even get up and start scurrying away.

While this is pretty common among certain young fire ants, this is not true for fire ants of all ages. As ants grow older, they tend to grow out of this trait. This means that ants that are in the midst of their lifespan, or on the older side, will tend to stop playing dead. Researchers are not sure why this change occurs, but it’s most likely a result of growing more aggressive with age. Young ants are typically smaller than older ants and pack less of a punch when it comes to fighting back. Fire ants are very interesting, we talk about them in several articles, here’s one you might be interested in: Can Fire Ants Kill Your Pets?

Not much is known about this type of practice in ants yet, but it appears to be a genetic trait that is passed down from generation to generation. A lot of this has to do with the queen, and the particular hive these fire ants come from.

Do ants avoid dead ants?

Ants will only avoid dead ants if danger is still present in the area, or if the dead Ant has been carried off to the midden. If an ant is freshly killed, in a hive for example, then chances are they’ll carry the ant off to a midden. The simple answer to this question is no, but in some cases, there might be a reason for an ant to avoid a dead ant.

So when do they avoid dead ants?

Ants will only avoid dead ants once they’re in the midden, or if danger is still present. While ants may smell the pheromones released upon an ant’s death, they’re not always sure what caused it. This will likely cause other ants to investigate. If danger is present, they’ll leave their companion behind. If there is no sign of danger, they’ll carry their dead off to the midden.

Ants are well aware of the fact that a decomposing corpse can leave with it infections, ailments, and cause harm to the well being of the hive. This is why dead ants will initially carry their dead to a midden, because it will decrease any risk to the hive.

What chemical do ants release when they die?

When an ant dies, as we’ve mentioned throughout the article, they release pheromones. Pheromones, at their core, are chemicals that send signals to other ants. This is common in most insects, and pheromones can signal death, sexual desire, and even food sources. When looking at ants, though, this pheromone tends to be a fatty acid.

What are the exact chemicals?

The exact chemicals are not widely known, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have a pretty good idea as to what they are. The most likely result is that upon death, ants release fatty acid-based pheromones from their excreting bodily fluids. This acts as a signal that nearby ants pick up on. That’s the most common theory, but there is one more.

Another theory is that ants constantly have pheromones for both life and death being emitted. This would mean that once they die, the only pheromone remaining is that of death. This would be a pretty good explanation, but the one thing we know for sure is that this chemical is most likely oleic acid.

What is oleic acid?

Oleic acid is a fatty based acid and is actually present in quite a few different plants and animal species. The acid is monounsaturated and is an omega 9 acid. This means that the acid has no smell, which is interesting because it will still cause ants to know that death is in the area. This is due to the fact that ants are able to pick up on their presence. Cockroaches also release oleic acid when they die, read more about it in Why Do Cockroaches Smell? The Curious Answer

Ants might not seem like they have a whole lot of fluids upon their demise, but that small splatter left behind is strong enough to signal the entire hive.

What happens when a queen ant dies?

By AStronotuss - Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=79160822

This is always a big question when it comes to ants and death because the queen plays a huge role in the hive. The ant queen makes sure things run smoothly, elects roles, and makes sure that the hive has fresh new members on a steady basis. The queen ant is literally responsible for reproduction, and actually lays thousands of eggs. Without the ant queen, the hive is going to be in some real danger, and the queen is not replaceable.

So what happens when she dies?

When the queen ant dies, as with most ants, her corpse will be carried off to the midden. The death of the queen ant is far more significant than the death of a regular hive member. This is due to the fact that once the queen ant dies, the ant population will no longer be able to reproduce. Therefore, once the queen ant dies, the rest of the hive will die along with her. This will not happen instantly, but eventually, the hive will be no more.

The queen Ant gives life to the hive, and when her time is up, the time of the entire hive is up. This is why you’ll find queen ants guarded at a central location of the hive, and never roaming the surface.

If you’re reading this article from the perspective of someone who’s dealing with an Ant infestation in your home or garden then I’d just recommend getting a Indoor/Outdoor Ant Control Kit. It’ll take care of the problem quickly and effectively.


Ants may be small insects, but that doesn’t mean they lack complexity. Ants, as a species, are pretty capable of making complex decisions.

This is why when an ant dies, it alerts the whole hive. Just like human beings, ants remove the corpse and carry it off to a burial location.

Therefore, while they may seem insignificant, ants actually mirror a lot of human behavior. They all have roles, complete tasks, and even have the ability to dispose of waste along with the dead.

If you enjoyed reading this article, why not check out our articles on Are Ant Farms a Bad Idea? Let’s Discuss and Do Ants Hibernate in the Winter? Let’s Find Out


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Steve Foster

Mad about bugs and wanting to publish as many articles as I can to help educate people about these amazing beautiful creatures! For more info check out my about page https://schoolofbugs.com/about-steve-foster/

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