Yes, More about Ants! And BURIED ALIVE!

dead ant

God knows I talk about ants a lot. (Here, here, here)
Listening to the often excellent Radiolab podcast, I recently heard an interview with E.O. Wilson, the legendary entomologist.

He talked about how ants communicate mainly through pheromones and other scents, rather than sight, sound, and touch. An example is when an ant dies.

There’s an ant. Let’s call him George. George dies. In decomposing, he releases a certain chemical that alerts the other ants to his death. They pick George up and carry him to the ant graveyard.

So far so good.

Wilson took a bit of that “I’m dead” chemical and daubed it on a live ant. Let’s call her Margie. Immediately, the other ants came and picked Margie up. She kicked and wriggled around, but the other ants just brought her over and dumped HER in the ant graveyard. She was pissed.

Then, Margie came back to the main area, and the other ants picked her up again and moved her back to the graveyard. Eventually, in her normal cleaning routine, Margie got rid of the chemical and returned to a normal life, putting the whole episode behind her. Good for her.

Silly ants.

What about humans?

So… I started thinking. Do you know how many humans were BURIED ALIVE(!!!) before modern technology? Neither do I. But it happened, and it was horrific. Some people think that’s the reason for legends of vampires and things rising from the dead.

There was a great fear of being buried alive, that’s for sure.

We check for a heart beat, but that can be deceptive. Some animals could probably know definitively. Maybe they could sense whether there’s an electrical field around us. Maybe, within a few hours, they could smell whether we were decomposing.

Let’s face it, ants don’t usually decompose until they’re dead, so they don’t make a lot of mistakes about it when E.O. Wilson isn’t screwing with them. But humans are pretty clueless.

Good old ants.

2 Responses to Yes, More about Ants! And BURIED ALIVE!

  1. Mrs. Sengupta April 22, 2010 at 4:49 pm #

    Don’t be lonely. It’s no Gorilla-gram video, but I learned something, as usual, from your post. Thanks!

  2. BruceS April 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm #

    Julia and I both laughed. Now if we could only spray Congress with the “I’m dead” chemical, so they’d spend all their time trying to carry each other to the graveyard instead of their usual behavior.

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