Who brings out the dead? Necrophoresis in the red ant, Myrmica rubra. Animal Behaviour. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2013.09.030
The division of labour plays a major role in the success of social insects. For instance, through social prophylaxis, the spread of pathogens within the colony can be reduced if corpse removal is the concern of a specialized group of ants. However, in relatively small colonies, the number of dead individuals and the amount of waste may be too low to justify a specialized group of corpse carriers. We examined the corpse removal habits of the common red ant, Myrmica rubra. Ants acting as corpse carriers were not strictly specialized in corpse management, but split their time between disposing of the dead and foraging. Some corpse-carrying individuals, however, developed a short-term specialization by making several successive corpse transports. Corpse carriers limited cross-contamination by remaining mostly outside the nest and congregating near the nest entrance when resting inside.