Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Honey Bees Happy to Die for Greater Good

Bees and Ants are 'Model Citizens'
The Telegraph (UK), 3/23/2009

Bees and ants have long been recognised as tireless workers, but new research today suggests they can also behave like selfless model citizens.

A study has found that some bees and ants do operate in the best interests of the group to which they belong – creating a "superorganism" – and can even sacrifice their lives for the greater good of their community.

But scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh and Oxford found the same could not be said for other animal groupings, such as herds of bison or shoals of fish…

The researchers studied the way in which co-operative groups of animals evolve, using mathematical models.

They found that some insects, such as honey bees and leafcutter ants, do seem to put the interests of their group above their own selfish interests.

"Looking at a honey bee hive, it does strike you as being like an organism," he said…

"What we've done is show formal mathematical backing for that idea."

Dr Gardner believes that the honey bee's behaviour is controlled by an efficient form of "policing", which suppresses conflict between individuals within the group.

This means that the bees are united in a common purpose – ensuring the survival of the queen bee's offspring.

Dr Gardner said: "If you look at honey bee workers, they don't have much opportunity for mating, but they can still lay eggs that can develop into males.

"But when other workers encounter those eggs, they eat them.

"It means if you're a worker, you cannot get ahead by pursuing your own reproduction, so you might as well help the queen with her reproduction.

"In a beehive, the workers are happy to help the community, even to die, because the queen carries and passes on their genes."…

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