Corpse management of the invasive Argentine ant inhibits growth of pathogenic fungi.
A dead conspecific poses a potential pathogen risk for social animals. We have discovered that Argentine ants (Linepithema humile) prevent spread of pathogenic fungi from corpses by depositing the dead to combined toilet and refuse areas and applying pygidial gland secretion on them. The presence of a corpse in a nest increases this secretion behaviour. We identified three fungi growing on Argentine ant corpses. Growth of the Argentine ant pathogen Aspergillus nomius and the plant pathogen Fusarium solani on corpses was inhibited as long as the ants were constantly attending them as the ant anal secretion only delayed germination of their spores. In contrast, the effect of the ant anal secretion on the human pathogen Aspergillus fumigatus was much stronger: it prevented spore germination and, accordingly, the fungus no longer grew on the treated corpses. The Argentine ants are one of the world's worst invasive alien species as they cause ecological and economical damage in their new habitats. Our discovery points at a novel method to limit Argentine ant colonies through their natural fungal pathogens.