Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Wasps...

I'm going to confess. I hate wasps the way some people hate spiders and snakes. I particularly hate social wasps.

I have good reason - I was stung badly as a small child and nearly ended up in the hospital.

But wasps are quite fascinating creatures. Some kinds are my friend no matter how much I want them somewhere else - they eat horse fly maggots, and anything that eats horse flies is my friend.

Social wasps are the most fascinating...along with ants and bees.

Humans are social animals - but we also fight a lot. We even fight our siblings. Like most social mammals and birds we're more intelligent than our solitary counterparts. (In our case, that would be the orang utan, although it's still a pretty brainy ape). Social interaction may even increase the need for brain power. (And in humans, social interaction would also have driven the development of first spoken and then written language, and it may well have turned into a cycle...the complex communication systems driving an increase in intelligence).

Social wasps have now been demonstrated to be considerably less intelligent than solitary wasps. The area of the insect brain dedicated to higher functions is smaller. As wasps become more social they become, as individuals, dumber. Why spend energy on a complex brain when you can rely on your buddies?

It's a very different way to arrive at intelligence - probably related to the limits insect physiology puts on size. But it supports the hypothesis that an insect colony may be a single consciousness. The hive mind, though, does not resemble the classic science fiction trope where the queen mind controls everyone - instead the entire colony is the "brain." A quite different idea...