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When we see ants, we see ourselves

Describing insects, we use words from our own societies like ‘workers’ and ‘caste’

You can’t look at an anthill without thinking of it in human terms. And many of the words used to describe insect societies, even in scientific terminology, are words that are analogies from our own societies like ‘queen’ and ‘soldiers’.

This is according to Jes Søe Pedersen, associate professor at the university’s Centre for Social Evolution. He has just organised a conference with 750 insect scientists in Copenhagen.

See the University Post interview with biologist Iain Couzin

Most of all, it is the extreme sociality of insect societies that explains our human fascination with them.

Ants are not selfish

From a scientific perspective, the study of insect societies is the study of evolution, conflict and co-operation, things that can be applied to other species, including our own.

»Insects have an extreme sociality,« he explains.

»Take ants for example. Most of the individuals, the workers, don’t reproduce themselves. But success in terms of evolution is normally measured in terms of survival and having loads of offspring, « he explains.

See photo gallery of social insects here

»Ants seem to be purely working for the social unit, which is often a kind of extended family, so this is a radical form of sociality! And unlike humans they have no culture. This sociality has evolved purely through natural selection« he continues.

»Insect societies give us a much bigger picture of what natural selection actually is, and they allow us to see the mechanisms of conflict and co-operation in action«.

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