Ants bringing flower petals to a dead bumble bee might just be the closest thing we get to a live reenactment of A Bug’s Life. The unusual video was captured in Minnesota by Nicole Webinger and has the internet in a tizzy over what could be the first evidence of an insect funeral.
“Saw this outside of my work by the garden,” said Webinger in her original video post. There was a dead bumblebee, and we were watching the ants bring flower petals and leaving them around the bumblebee. It looked like they were having a funeral for it.”
It certainly looks as if the bees are performing some strange ritual by carrying flower petals to the dead bee. Could this be the first bug funeral?
As much as it might be fun to think that these ants decided to throw a funeral and honor the bee’s life, that’s probably not the case. According to behavioral ecologist Mark Elgar, there are a few factors that likely are the reason for the baffling 46-second video.
First, there is the possibility that the ants could be attempting to build a wall around the dead bee in order to prevent other ants from smelling the food and alerting their colonies. Elgar believes this isn’t likely the case because it suggests that the ants are anticipating something that hasn’t formed as part of their ant experience. “Concealing them with the odor of petals, it’s a possibility, but it would really have to form part of the ants’ repertoire,” Elgar told ScienceAlert.
Okay, so the ants probably aren’t trying to hide their meal from other colonies. Moving on.
Both ants and bees also release a a compound called oleic acid when they die. Bees will discard their dead from the hive after they die, whereas ants will transport their dead to a midden heap (essentially, an ant graveyard). As for the ants giving the bee a funeral far more elaborate than what they do with their own dead, Elgar doesn’t think this is the case either.
“The chemical signals that ants respond to can be context dependent, otherwise they’d be shifting dead things all over the place,” Elgar said.
“So they may be responding to oleic acid, some foolish workers trying to drag the bee into the nest. It’s not quite as crazy as it might seem, but I think it’s rather unlikely.”
Elgar believes that the most likely reason for the odd video is that the dead bee is blocking the ants’ nest entrance. It’s not exactly the most exciting revelation, but probably what is actually going on here, according to the scientist.
“My guess is that the bee is sitting over the top of the ants’ nest entrance, and that is why there is a number of petals sitting around the bee, including more ants arriving with petals.”
David Notton, a Senior Curator at at the Natural History Museum in London seemed to agree with Elgar’s theory and suggests the ants in the video are harvester ants merely trying to take the flower petals back to their nest. “The bee may be more of an obstacle for the ants if it is preventing them taking food down their burrow,” Notton said.
A final possibility.
There is one final possibility to the mystery behind this baffling viral video. Somebody – *cough, cough* Nicole – put the bee on top of the flowers around the ants. Hey, it’s not the first time the internet has been trolled.
Unfortunately, nature doesn’t normally play out like a Pixar movie.