The successful life of insect societies has evolved from the division of labor among more or less specialized individuals, who carry out all necessary tasks for the maintenance and growth of the colony. The extreme division of labor has produced workers specialized in the removal of dead members of the colony, an evident and highly stereotyped behavior called undertaking which consists of the ability to recognize and dispose of the dead members of the colony using specific chemical cues. Although living in enclosed nests has contributed to the ecological success of social insects due to environmental control, it also poses disadvantages. Nests of social insects, containing dense groups of genetically close individuals with frequent physical contact, present ideal conditions for the incidence and dispersion of infectious diseases. To maintain strict microbiological control inside the nest, these insects have evolved hygienic behavioral strategies to avoid and control the proliferation of pathogens. Undertaking behavior is one of the fundamental strategies to exert microbiological control inside the nest by means of suitable management and removal of dead members of the colony, to prevent the emergence of epidemics that may lead the insect society to extinction. Therefore, undertaking behavior has been fundamental to the evolution of social insects. This stereotyped behavior constitutes an excellent model for the understanding of both social evolution and the neurobiological basis of social behavior. In this paper, we review the present knowledge on undertaking behavior, and outline some perspectives of the study of such far-reaching behavior of social organization.
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