Ants as Carcasses Consumers a Case Study Undertaken Inside a Greenhouse (Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain)

Research Article

Austin J Forensic Sci Criminol. 2014;1(2): 3.

Ants as Carcasses Consumers a Case Study Undertaken Inside a Greenhouse (Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain)

Salona-Bordas MI1*, Salona-Bordas JL1 and Tinaut A2

1Department of Zoology and Animal Cell Biology, University of the Basque Country, Spain

2Department of Zoology, University of Granada, Spain

*Corresponding author: Salona-Bordas MI, Department of Zoology and Animal Cell Biology. Faculty of Science and Technology, University of the Basque Country, UPV/EHU, Barrio de Sarriena s/n, Leioa, 48940 Bizkaia, Spain

Received: September 29, 2014; Accepted: November 23, 2014; Published: December 01, 2014


We report the reduction of mice carcasses by a single species of ant Pheidole megacephala (Hymenoptera, Formicidae). The carcasses of drowned mice were placed inside a greenhouse and remained under observation until reduced to a skeleton. The access of external fauna into the greenhouse was limited and no fly or other necrophagous insect colonised the remains of the first animal, except ants invading the greenhouse through the floor and reducing the mouse to a skeleton after a few days, beginning through the head and trunk. The ants were identified as Pheidole megacephala, a pest that has been introduced to temperate countries through the trade in exotic plants. Once the soft tissues had been consumed, the ants transported the bones to the nest under the greenhouse structure eliminating any possible evidence of the corpse at the scene. When a barrier blocked the access of the ants to the carcass, blowflies colonised and developed successfully in the carcass; post feeding maggots were reared under laboratory conditions and emerged adults identified as Calliphora vicina and Lucilia sericata (Diptera, Calliphoridae). This is the first time that P. megacephala has been reported in association with carcass reduction.

Keywords: Mouse/Mice; Carcass reduction; Pheidole megacephala; Formicidae; Calliphoridae


A case study using mouse carcasses has been developed inside a greenhouse in Lanzarote (Gran Canaria, Canary Islands). A colony of ants established inside the greenhouse reduced the carcasses into bones, removed any evidence from scene in few days and delayed the blowfly colonisation of the carcass. Moreover, when blowfly oviposition occurred due to an artificial barrier that prevented the access of the ants to the carcass, ants altered the blowfly cycle producing a migration in advance and shortening it, with the emergency of smaller adults.

Ants are considered opportunistic within sarcosaprophagous communities [1, 2] although they have been the most important taxon in previous studies carried out in the Iberian Peninsula [3]. In these cases, Formicidae was considered to be opportunistic necrophilous species that use carcasses not only as a refuge for warmth or moisture, but as food source [1]. Some ant species can predate on human skin, soft tissues, maggots and other necrophagous larvae [4] or feed on significant sources of organic material such as saprophyte remains. Moreover, some species of ants are extremely aggressive, i.e. the red imported fire ant Solenopsis invicta Bueren, 1972, and may produce specific injuries in suspects and inspectors that should not be ignored.

Their opportunistic status may explain the presence of ant species associated with carcasses, which theoretically have different specific food requirements; such as is the case of Messor Forel, 1890 species that usually feeds on grain but has been collected in association with rabbit [5] and chicken carcasses [3] among others. It should be noticed that Fernández-Escudero & Tinaut [6] demonstrated through field experiments that M. barbarus (Linnaeus, 1767) and M. bouvieri Bondroit, 1918 preferred insect corpses to seeds, which are the theoretical food source of these ants. The authors concluded that seeds could be chosen as an easy and less competitive option, rather than real innate food specificity. Pheidole Westwood, 1839 has a highly varied food pattern, from seeds to vegetable fluids [7]. Nevertheless, it has been also considered opportunistic as it has been recorded in relation to carcasses in tropical areas, being the most abundant genus in the sarcosaprophagous community associated to chicken carcasses [3].

We used mouse carcasses to check the capability of ants to alter a scene and to reduce to skeleton a carcass of small size.

Material and Methods

We assessed both the importance of the ant community as carcass consumers as well as their influence on fly colonisation of the corpses using the data from three mouse carcasses (Mus musculus Linnaeus, 1758) inside a greenhouse under different conditions.

The first mouse was found dead and placed inside a greenhouse on June 17th, 2007. A replicate of this situation was carried out with a second mouse placed on the greenhouse on May 1st, 2009; a third corpse was placed one day later, at a distance of 1 metre from the second carcass and isolated from the floor by a recipient full of water. The water acted as a barrier against the colonisation of the carcass by ants.

Environmental temperature and humidity were recorded during the second and third replicates of the experiment.


Ants colonised the first and second carcass within the first minutes of exposure. There was only one species involved, identified as Pheidole megacephala (Fabricius, 1793). Water acted as an effective barrier against ants, and the third carcass was only colonised by blowflies identified as Calliphora vicina Robineau-Desvoidy, 1830 and Lucilia sericata (Meigen, 1826) (Diptera, Calliporidae), after rearing the maggots collected from the carcass. It was not possible to record any environmental data for the first case. However, temperature (minimum and maximum) and humidity were recorded for cases 2 and 3 as detailed in Table 1.

Citation: Salona-Bordas MI, Salona-Bordas JL and Tinaut A. Ants as Carcasses Consumers a Case Study Undertaken Inside a Greenhouse (Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain). Austin J Forensic Sci Criminol. 2014;1(2): 3. ISSN:2380-0801