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Termites Are The Most Selfless Insects In Existence

December 8th, 2017

Termites Are The Most Selfless Insects In Existence

There is no doubt that we humans appreciate selfless behavior when it is coming from others. However, it is hard to deny that selfish behavior often wins out over altruistic behavior in our own everyday lives. For example, if a fire starts inside of a building, you can bet that humans will not work together in order to form an orderly line through the exit; instead the biggest individuals would literally trample the smallest individuals in a panicked effort to save themselves. These mass panics have resulted in trampling deaths of people in the past. Although these situations are tragic, there is no reason to feel bad about feeling selfish, as selfish behavior is exhibited by most other animals as well. But not all animals, as termites happen to be one exception to this hardwired behavior. It’s not that termites are altruistic just because they are eusocial insects. In fact, even ants, another type of eusocial insect, have been known to stomp on other ants during panicked escapes from endangered nesting sites. So why are termites so cool tempered, orderly, and altruistic during catastrophic events? Well, most eusocial insects are a bit more altruistic in their behaviors than non-eusocial insects. But termites are probably the most altruistic of all insects because they are the oldest eusocial insects. Termites have existed fifty million years longer than ants and bees have. In other words, termites have had the most practice at behaving cooperatively within a group. Therefore their cooperative instincts are stronger.

When researchers from the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center studied “panic escape” behavior in termites, they found that termites never panic in moments of great danger. When the researchers placed termites on a dish, and then started to violently shake the dish, the termite workers escaped by forming a single file line leading to an exit. Termite soldiers remained on the borders of the dish while chomping their mouthparts in defense. If a worker termite slowed down a line’s movement or stopped, the other termites would wait. Unlike ants, trampling never occurred.

The fact that termites are unusually altruistic, even for eusocial insects, is not due solely to the longer amount of time that they have spent on this planet. Termites also must work together much more closely in order to build nests that are far larger and more complicated than the nests built by other eusocial insects. Without the altruism and cooperative behavior demonstrated by termites, such complicated nesting structures could never be made.

Do you think that different termite species indulge in warlike behavior?

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