Call it the road to nowhere. Scores of wood ants living near an old nuclear weapons bunker in western Poland plunge seemingly to death each year—and their descendants follow them—in a bizarre ritual that has amazed scientists.
The story begins with hard-working ants that built a colony atop a defunct Soviet-era bunker, reports ArsTechnica. When metal covering a ventilation pipe rusted way, the ants began tumbling down.
What sounds like a death sentence (they can’t climb out, there is no food, and it is very cold) has turned into a survival story because these worker ants keep doing what they always do: building until they die.
And when they do? "A younger generation is on its way, ready to cart off the fallen to a two-million-strong ant cemetery beyond the mound and continue their endless, pointless labor," reports Inverse. Researchers write in the Journal of Hymenoptera that a million or so trapped ants have managed to carry on in a virtual Cold War nightmare, living in a near-starvation state and total darkness.
The colony rests atop a thick cemetery of ant ancestors, indicating this has been going on for quite some time. Zoologists who stumbled upon the odd discovery in Templewo while counting bats doubted cannibalism was keeping the insects alive, suggesting bat excrement could be doing the trick.
The ants produce no offspring, and so the colony's survival depends on surface ants making the same mistake they did. Wood ants are known to be resilient, though, with one colony surviving on a barren islet for nearly 30 years with only pine trees to munch, the researchers write.
(A historian thinks a $500 million treasure hides in an old Nazi bunker.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: In Abandoned Cold War Bunker, a Determined Colony Survives