Termite Nest

Termite Nest

There are only two dozen animal lines in total that display eusocial behavior. Why hasn’t this altruistic impulse been made more common, especially given how successful it is when it does take hold?

Well, that’s a fundamental issue in biology that, to my knowledge, was never raised before. The obvious has been staring us in the face, that eusocial creatures come in the case of insects to dominate the insect world on the land in terms of sheer biomass, sheer numbers, control of the environment, and they’re hugely successful. And the same is true of humans, one species that has very well taken over everything. So the question in biology should have been some time ago, “Why is it so successful, why is it so rare, why did it take so long?”

So why haven’t these questions been explored more carefully before now?

Unfortunately, in recent years, most of the writing about altruism and advanced social behavior both for humans and also for animals like insects has just concentrated on the immediate – what are they doing, how does it work, the whims, and so on. They’ve tended to emphasize helping kin as a logical way that social behavior like this originated. If that were true, then we could expect to see eusociality almost everywhere, because there are so many opportunities and so many kinds of animals that closely associate with their kin. So that’s not quite the right answer. That’s why we’ve come up with a mostly different theory.

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