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Int J Biol Sci 2013; 9(3):313-321. doi:10.7150/ijbs.5781


Corpse Management in Social Insects

Qian Sun, Xuguo Zhou

Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40546-0091, USA.


Undertaking behavior is an essential adaptation to social life that is critical for colony hygiene in enclosed nests. Social insects dispose of dead individuals in various fashions to prevent further contact between corpses and living members in a colony. Focusing on three groups of eusocial insects (bees, ants, and termites) in two phylogenetically distant orders (Hymenoptera and Isoptera), we review mechanisms of death recognition, convergent and divergent behavioral responses toward dead individuals, and undertaking task allocation from the perspective of division of labor. Distinctly different solutions (e.g., corpse removal, burial and cannibalism) have evolved, independently, in the holometabolous hymenopterans and hemimetabolous isopterans toward the same problem of corpse management. In addition, issues which can lead to a better understanding of the roles that undertaking behavior has played in the evolution of eusociality are discussed.

Keywords: undertaking behavior, necrophoresis, eusociality, Hymenoptera, Isoptera.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) License. See for full terms and conditions.
How to cite this article:
Sun Q, Zhou X. Corpse Management in Social Insects. Int J Biol Sci 2013; 9(3):313-321. doi:10.7150/ijbs.5781. Available from