A queen without a successor, colony politics, division of labour, caste systems – eh, you thought I am talking about humans? No, insect societies, such as those of ants, bees and wasps. They recognise their queen, are hostile to a foreign queen, are extremely aggressive and highly intolerant towards members from other colonies, but at peace with their own colony members even when faced with situations of potential conflict. Sounds familiar?
So if their behaviour is eerily similar to ours, what do they do when faced with food shortages, like sections of human society are now facing?
Organise themselves into larger groups that are more efficient in locating food and dividing it economically among all, says Rgahavendra Gadagkar, professor at the centre for ecological sciences and contemporary studies at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.
Gagadkar told a TWAS meeting today (21 October) that his motivation for studying some social insects such as ants, bees and wasps that have a social organisation and integration that can parallel, or even outdo, human societies. The goal of the studies, he says, is not to imitate them or even justify our behaviour, but reflect on how we conduct our affairs.
Which is why I felt one of the audience’s queries on food shortages is pertinent. Maybe humans could take clues from what the social insects do at times of food shortages. If better organisation into larger cooperatives is the answer, maybe we should consider the strategy.
T V Padma, South Asia Regional Coordinator, SciDev.Net