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Can humans learn anything from societies of bees, ants and wasps?

05 Dec 2005
Prof. Francis Ratniek
Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, The University of Sheffield.

We humans and our primate ancestors are social, but for most of our evolutionary history we lived in small groups. With the advent of agriculture, some 10,000 years ago, humans have lived in ever larger and more complex societies, culminating in the metropolis of the present day.
In contrast, insects have been living in societies for over 100 million years, and in large complex societies for most of that time. Can humans, as relative newcomers to social life, learn anything from bees, wasps, ants and termites?
Insect and human societies are very different and it is unlikely that we can benefit by copying insects directly. Indeed, by human standards an insect society would be unbearably totalitarian and unequal, with workers sacrificing their lives for the good of the state. However, both human and insect societies face common challenges posed by social life. It is here that we may be able to learn from insects?