The great Swiss myrmecologist Auguste Forel (1848 – 1931) once observed that “the greatest enemies of ants are other ants, just as the greatest enemies of men are other men.” In general, this maxim appears true – with exceptions. Once such exception was reported in 1977 in the journal Nature, by myrmecologists James H. Brown and Diane W. Davidson. These two researchers found that seed-harvesting ants compete with seed-eating rodents (!) in the Silverbell Bajada near Tucson, Arizona.

Cemeteries are known locations of an abundance of human bones. But cemeteries are not the only site where human bones have been deposited, in both modern and ancient times, and investigations of such bones, wherever they are found, can often tell us a lot about traumatic injuries, environmental changes, cultural histories, and a number of other phenomenon that might interest anthropologists, including forensic anthropologists. However, interpreting bones can be difficult. Various destructive factors can change the shape and other features of bones over time, and thus the more we know about processes of bone destruction, the more we can know about the other phenomena associated with the bones.

And here’s where the ants come in. A paper published earlier this year, in Forensic Entomology, formally reports a discovery that previously had only been the subject of speculation and anecdotes: direct modification of human bones… by ants.