Ants Bring Flower Petals to Cover Dead Bumblebee in What Looks Like ‘Funeral’

There are many videos available on social media about insects, but what brought the greatest attention was the one shared on Facebook. The video was about a dead bumblebee that was surrounded by ants bringing petals as if they were performing a funeral. Here it is what a Facebook user wrote in a post accompanying the video: “Saw this outside of my work by the garden. There was a dead bumblebee, and we were watching the ants bring flower petals and leaving them around the bumblebee.”

It seemed that the ants were conducting a bumblebee funeral, but most of us know that funerals are not held by insects. So, is it a mere coincidence or the ants have become more humane. This question has been answered by experts offering us an explanation of this incident.

The behavioral ecologist from the University of Melbourne, Mark Elgar said to Science Alert: “It’s a great video. I’ll use it for teaching first-year biology next year to illustrate the power of suggestion. The caption tells us that the ants are burying the bee in flower petals – how wonderful is that?”

But, are the ants burying the bumble bee for real?

Elgar clarifies that this is not common for the behaviors of ants and that “thinking outside of the box is always really helpful, what the person is suggesting is that the ants are behaving in a completely different way in anticipation of something that hasn’t formed part of their experience.” But, ants do not have funerals, only humans do. These insects do not even know the concept of funeral so they cannot plan one.

Elgar comments on the idea of funeral:

That’s a big ask for an ant.”

He adds, “Concealing them with the odor of petals, it’s a possibility, but it would really have to form part of the ants’ repertoire.”

The reality is rather boring and it may not satisfy your imagination. He states the following:

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.”

Another expert working at the Natural History Museum, London agrees with Elgar’s suggestion. That expert is David Notton, Senior Curator of Hymenoptera (the order of insects that includes ants, bees, and wasps) who stated the following to IF Science:

[It’s] hard to say as the locality and type of ant is not clear, but most probably they are harvester ants (vegetarian) taking petals back to their nest as food, and a dead bee has somehow ended up on top of the nest entrance.”

He continues:

“That is to say the bee may be more of an obstacle for the ants if it is preventing them from taking food down their burrow.”

There are two other theories about the nature of this video given by Thomas O’Shea-Wheller, a postdoctoral researcher of entomology at Louisiana State University.

He told IF Science: 

I think it is one of two things; either a ‘rubbish mound’ for the ants, upon which they are stacking various decomposing items (including a bumblebee and petals). Or, a food store upon which they are storing items that they have foraged for. Either way, the key point is that they seem to be treating the bee and petals as the same kind of resource, or waste product, thus the appearance of a ‘bee funeral’.”

Although experts state that funerals are not common for ants, it is nice to believe that the video represented a funeral of friendly bumblebee. Every bee is important for the ecosystem especially when their count is reducing and in some areas they are declared extinct. Hence, we need to do everything that we can to protect this valuable insect.

Tips for Saving Bees

  • You can become a beekeeper

  • If you are not in a position, then support your local beekeeper

  • Learn more about bees and offer your knowledge to your children

  • You can plant a bee-friendly garden

  • In your garden do not use harmful pesticides

  • Find out how to use a sugar-water mixture in order to revive weak bees