COOPERATION IN THE INSECT WORLD

Oct 12, 2018-

The insect world exists in enormous and bewildering variety. Insects help maintain the balance of nature, serving as food for birds and occasionally for man as well. Bugs are a great source of protein but they are also much more than that.

Without different insect species fulfilling their respective niches, the fabric of nature would unravel. With that said, swarms of some insects can cause much destruction to forests and agriculture causing them to be labelled as pests. 

 

Insects had been around for over 300 million years prior to the existence of the first hominids. They have to be an extremely resilient life form to have survived several mass extinctions including that of the dinosaurs. 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. In general, they function as the world’s pre-eminent scavengers, and though they may spread

foul diseases they also spread pollen which is crucial to the survival of life on earth.  

Different insects species live and organise themselves in different ways and among them bees and ants probably have the most sophisticated ‘societal structures’ that are fundamentally hierarchical with a brood mother or ‘queen’ at the top. Each individual is part of a specialised group  carrying out a designated function, and together these groups coordinate so seamlessly that an ant colony or a bee hive may appear as if a single entity. In a way, they are not so different from us.

The modern bee evolved from the digger wasp. For a bee hive reproduction and provisioning make up the most important tasks. Everything therefore revolves round the Queen, who is mother to all the members of the hive. She is queen by virtue of having been the first and shares the nest with future queens or reproductive females, until the latter leave the hive to establish new colonies. Provisioning is carried out on a mass scale by the males who extract nectar from flowers—the spreading of pollen is a by product of this process. The main types of bees are the apish, the bumble and the two tropical variants, Trigona and Melipona. The bumble have a clear, annual cycle. They begin as one family with the queen (mother) establishing a nest.  Eventually, as the hive grows, young queens become fertile over winter and start new nests for the following year and the cycle continues.

The ant-world is also ruled by a female queen while the males make up the multitudes of worker and soldier ants. They communicate through pheromones and their ability to coordinate is highly developed. Ant-Hills, especially in tropical climates, rise to considerable heights and tend to 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 own alloted task, which is carried out with a single-mindedness with little to no individual autonomy-each individual exists solely for the collective and so the collective functions almost as if one individual being.

Queens and some males grow wings upon maturity, and ‘swarm’ like bees when mating. The males die soon after copulating and the queens go on to produce new offspring. Most worker ants are non-reproductive females, who take care of the nest and gather of food. Once, this is established, the queen becomes a reproductive machine. Food is fed to her constantly and new workers emerge almost at an industrial scale.

The incredible co-operation shown in insect communities is the most intriguing aspect about them. It seems to me, that this communal cohesion contributed to their perseverance and survival through the ages.

Aachal Singh

Grade 9

Grammar Public Secondary School

Published: 12-10-2018 08:13

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