Co-operation in the insect world
The insect world exists in enormous and bewildering variety, serving its main purpose of helping to maintain the balance of nature, supplying birds with food, and occasionally man himself. More often than not, insects do great harm, destroying crops and roots and occasionally eating everything vegetable in a wide area. Locusts are an example.
They inhabited the world 300 million years before the arrival of man, but have never shouted the evolution characteristic of the animal world. By definition, an insect consists of a head, a thorax, an abdomen which carries out digestive and reproductive functions, and in most cases six legs. But apart from this, even the main categories are almost innumerable. In general, hey are the world’s scavengers, and though they may spread disease as they spread pollen, they prevent far more by literally consuming carrion after animal and bird carnivores have done their part.
All orders of insects have some form of co-operation among themselves, but among them, the bee and the ant have developed the highest form of ‘civilization.’.
The modern bee evolved from the digger wasp. The principle of bee society is that of the importance of the female and the young, reproduction and provisioning, therefore being the most important functions. everything therefore ‘revolves’ round the queen, who normally stays in the nest (or hive). She is ‘queen’ by virtue of having established her young, and shares the nest with future ‘queens’ (reproductive females), until the latter leave with the males to establish ‘homes’ of their own. Provisioning is carried out on a mass scale by the males who store nectar; there is no worker-caste of non-reproductive females. the social bees are the apish, the bumble and the two tropical ones, Trigona and Melipona. The bumble have a clear, annual cycle. They begin as one family, the queen (mother) occupying the nest. Mass provisioning changes to daily over the brood and the workers. Young queens become fertile over winter and stat new nests for the following year.
The ant-world is also based on the female, the male only being of passing importance. Their co-operation is highly developed. Ant-hills, especially in tropical climates, rise to considerable heights and last for many years. The focal points in them are the queen-ants (two or three), who have been known to live for as long as 16 years. There are many varieties of ants, from the humble worker to the formidable soldier, and each kind has his or her allotted task, which is carried out with a single mindedness which, humanly speaking, borders on dementia. Queens (reproductive females) and males have wings, and ‘swarm’ like bees on mating. They then reproduce workers, non-reproductive females, who take over the complete care of the nest and the gathering of food. Once, this is established, the queen becomes a reproductive machine. Food is fed into her, and new workers emerge.
Co-operation, in fact, is the keynote of the insect world; on it depends survival and reproduction, but, it is a basic and primitive instinct, a compulsion far removed from man’s co-operation which allows him to materialize such a wide variety of aspirations.