What happens when a pack animal dies in the underground den?

Many animals such as rabbits, foxes, prairie dogs, etc live in underground communities. What happens when one of those animals dies underground? How do the other animals in their pack deal with a corpse in the den? If you’ve ever had an animal die in the walls of your house, the stench is horrific as it rots away.

Most mammals, if they’re able, will crawl away from their den to find a hidden place to die. If an animal’s too weak to leave the den and dies underground, the others will merely move out and dig another hole elsewhere. They move from hole to hole quite frequently anyway.

Either that, or other animals living in the den with either eat the deceased or maybe drag it outside the den.

Cite for this? I’ve never heard of this.

Cite for this?

Did anybody else read the title and think it meant a beast of burden like a mule or burro?

Yes I thought it referred to mules who live underground…

None of these animals are properly called “pack” animals, which applies to socially hunting predators. Rabbits and prairie dogs live in social communities, but of course are not predatory. Foxes typically live in pairs or small family groups, and do not hunt as a pack.

I am not aware that any of these animals would routinely remove a dead animal from a burrow or den. A large majority of individuals die from predation. In cases where an animal dies underground, the corpse may be scavenged or quickly eaten by insects. In the case of a corpse that began to decompose. remember that many animals don’t appear to find the odor of decomposition as intolerable as we do. In cases where a decomposing corpse made a tunnel or den uninhabitable, they would probably just not use that area until decomposition was complete.

Me too. And my thought was that they would just pack them out of course. And then I thought that must be hard to carry another mule as big as you are through that small mule sized hole in the ground and then I thought WTF? Do mules really live underground i the wild? :confused:

They probably wouldn’t abandon a large complex, just close off the affected area.

You haven’t? True or not the notion is ubiquitous.


Another example.

Yet another.

First, I was specifically referring to the idea that animals would crawl away from their den to die. Most animals that die from disease or starvation may well seek a sheltered, hidden, or protected place to die, but that’s normally the den or another refuge. Most animals that aren’t killed by a predator are going to die in their den.

Second, I meant in a scientific context. Anecdotes about pet behavior aren’t really evidence about behavior in the wild.

How convenient. A burrow living creature dies in its den. Its a grave situation.

No more of your deadpan humor, please.

Elephant graveyards!

Ants seem to have it figured out. When ants die (some species anyway), other worker ants will cut up the corpse into pieces and carry the pieces out.

I’ve seen this happen with poisoned colonies. If I set out a slow-acting ant poison, so that a whole bunch of ants come and partake for a few days before they start to die off, then I also notice bunches of dead ant pieces will start to accumulate in piles around the anthill.


“Bring out the dead.”

Actually, with ants, taking out their dead is triggered by oleic acid emitted by the dead one. Some researcher painted a live ant with the stuff, and the other ants proceeded to drag out the live one, kicking and struggling. It would then makes its way back inside only to be dragged out again until the smell wore off.

“I’m not dead yet …”

That is even more cool.
If you could spray many of the colony, they would get carried off.

Just think about what would happen if you sprayed all of them!

I can speak about honeybees. The dead are carried out and tossed out of the hive entrance. After a tough winter, there’s a lot of housecleaning going on.

The problem is, you can’t. That is why ant sprays don’t work well to eradicate an entire colony.

When you see an ant trail, you are only seeing a small fraction of the entire population of the colony at any one time. When you wipe them out by spraying the ones you see, you only get the ones that you get. They spray may leave a residue that will continue killing ants (so it says on the spray can), but the ants will just establish a new trail somewhere else.

In contrast, the slow acting poisons can wipe out an entire colony. The ants come and eat it, and carry it back to the hive to feed the others – in particular, the queen. After a day or so, they will begin to die off – but by that time, a much greater proportion of the hive may have eaten the poison and are doomed. And the queen may be doomed. This is the much more effective way to wipe out a whole colony.

And then, as they die, you will start to see dead ant carcasses piling up around the entrances to the nest.