Imagine Nicole Webinger’s surprise when she came upon what seemed to be a bizarre twist of nature. A group of ants going about what appeared to be a funeral rite for a dead bumblebee. She described the scene saying: “As we were watching, the ants worked together to gather purple flower petals and arrange them in a circle around the bumblebee. It looked like they were holding a funeral for it.” [1].

Video proof

Luckily for us, Nicole had the presence of mind to whip out her phone and video this unusual event. She posted the video on Facebook with a post that likened the event to a funeral. The video has since gotten millions of views and raised quite a few questions about what was really going on. Were the ants really holding a funeral for the bumblebee or was it something entirely different?

Hoax or not

According to behavioral ecologist Mark Elgar, “The compulsion we have to ascribe human characteristics on other species illustrate the power of suggestion.” [2]. We see a group of ants burying a bumblebee in flower petals because the caption says so; even though it is most likely a natural occurrence.

He argues that the bee happened to drop over the top of the ants’ nest entrance hence the number of petals gathered around it and the ants arriving with more petals. He also points out that the simplest explanation was that it was staged by some individuals for hype; that it’s a hoax.

Natural occurrence

So far, experts are yet to come to a consensus about what this behavior could possibly mean. A running hypothesis is that since both ants and bees release a compound called oleic acid when they die, the ants must have stumbled across the bumblebee while transporting flower petals and mistaken it for one of their own [3].

Even though they both secrete oleic acid when they die, bees prefer to discard of their dead by throwing their bodies out of the hive. Ants, on the other hand are wired to transport their deceased to a refuse heap.Therefore, all the video shows us is ant dropping their petals around a dead bee as they attempt to drag it to their heap.

This, however, would be first as it has never been seen before in nature; you’d expect to see ants burying dead bees all over the place if they couldn’t distinguish their dead. Another theory is that the ants were attempting to mask the bee’s scent and hide it from potential predators so they could snack on it themselves. This theory falls the same way as the first as this kind of behavior has not been seen before in ants [3].

Whatever the reason for the event, the video is incredibly cool to watch and wonder about. Many experts believe that the chances of us witnessing such an event occur in nature again is quite slim. The video gets one thinking about the undiscovered wonders of the world.

References:

  1. Ants Bring Flower Petals To Cover Dead Bumblebee In What Looks Like ‘Funeral’“, Reshareworthy.
  2. Baffling Viral Video Shows Ants Carrying Flowers to a Dead Bee“, ScienceAlert. August 2018.
  3. Viral video shows ants covering a dead bee in flowers. Is this an interspecies funeral?“, Mother Nature Network. August 2018.
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