Ants carry their dead for hygienic purposes. They carry and take their dead away to keep their nests clean. In doing so, they protect themselves and their queen from contamination.
This behavior is called necrophoresis. It’s a behavior rooted in survival and is commonly found in social insects like ants. 
In this article, we’ll learn more about why ants carry their dead as we discuss the following:
- How ants perform necrophoresis
- How ants identify the dead from the living
We’ll also touch on common questions regarding ants and their dead. These questions include:
- Do ants mourn their dead?
- Do ants bury their dead?
- Do ants eat their dead?
- Do dead ants attract more ants?
How Do Ants Perform Necrophoresis?
Necrophoresis is typically carried out by worker ants. These worker ants act as undertakers and are constantly ready to remove dead ants from the nest.
Whenever they detect dead ants, they spring into action and carry them to a waste pile called the midden. This midden serves as an ant cemetery.
Ant undertakers practice social distancing. Any workers which come into contact with the dead stay outside or around the nest entrance. This is to limit their encounters with other members of the colony and minimize the risk of disease.
How Do Ants Identify Dead Ants?
Ants identify their dead through chemical signals called pheromones. Dead ants produce a certain scent referred to as the “dead ant smell”.
This smell comes from oleic acid, a proven trigger of necrophoric behavior. Any ant that smells of oleic acid is identified as dead. Even live ants bathed in the acid are carried to the midden despite moving and obviously alive.
Research has found that oleic acid also triggers foraging responses. This means that living ants also produce it.
If that is the case, then how do ants identify the dead from the living?
It turns out that living ants have 2 compounds present in their cuticles. These compounds or life signals are dolichodial and iridomyrmecin. They mask the “dead ant smell” and inhibit the stimuli that trigger necrophoresis. 
Necrophoric behavior only starts when these life signals disappear an hour after death.
Do Ants Mourn Their Dead?
No, ants do not mourn their dead. They see their dead as potential threats to the colony. Whatever they do to their dead is driven by survival instead of mourning.
Do Ants Bury Their Dead?
Yes, ants bury their dead. For example, queen ants of new colonies bury the corpses of their dead co-founders. They do so to reduce the chances of their own death and increase the likelihood of colony survival.
Ant burials have also been observed in some species like the T. lichtensteini. However, this practice is rather uncommon as it costs more energy than necrophoresis.
Do Ants Eat Their Dead?
Yes, ants do eat their dead. While rare, some ants practice cannibalism. For example, the ant species Formica polycenta eats their dead for sustenance. 
They do so carefully and don’t just eat any dead ants. Instead, they consider pathogenic growth and adjust their behavior depending on the risk. Even with their cannibalistic tendencies, they prioritize hygiene.
See this article to learn more about ant cannibalism.
Do Dead Ants Attract More Ants?
Dead ants don’t necessarily attract more ants. Ants don’t really care about their dead colony mates outside of necrophoric behavior. At the end of the day, it’s about survival, not attraction.
Summary: Why Do Ants Carry Their Dead?
To summarize, ants carry their dead for hygienic purposes. They take dead bodies out to keep their nests clean and prevent the spread of infections and disease.
From an outsider’s point of view, it would seem that ants carry out funerals for their dead. That is until you realize that they’re really just dumping dead bodies into a trash pile.