Eusociality and how Equality and Inequality Shape Social Animals

Two dynamic, seemingly opposing forces likely played an important role in the evolution of reproduction and child-rearing in social animals like bees and humans.

In this puzzle, we analyze how the exquisite interplay of the two processes described above orchestrates the dynamics of reproduction in social insects. In a recent Quanta article, “How Insulin Helped Create Ant Societies,” Jordana Cepelewicz highlights the two things that social insects require to propagate their species. The first is the production of large numbers of eggs (reproduction), a process that’s tailor-made for winner-take-all dynamics, and the second is the care and feeding of the offspring (caretaking), which requires equal shared responsibilities by a large number of individuals. The article discusses a theory of the origins of eusociality proposed in 1987 by the evolutionary biologist Mary Jane West-Eberhard, based on a species where the same individuals perform both tasks, cycling from one to another. This has now been shown to depend on insulin signaling caused by the presence of larvae in one ant species. As Cepelewicz reports, “[West-Eberhard] had observed that solitary wasps cycled through reproductive and caretaking phases in sync with their ovarian activity, and posited that eusocial division of labor emerged when parts of that ovarian cycle became exclusive to each caste: The queens had constantly active ovaries for egg laying, while the workers, whose ovaries stayed suppressed, dedicated themselves to foraging and brood care.”

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About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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