Good Reading : December January 2016
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING DECEMBER 2015 / JANUARY 2016 58 BOOK BITE 2 The queen rules by drugging her followers into submission. You can put it that way. But as soon as her fertility drops, her power is taken away and transferred to another queen. The insects submit to a ruler and cooperate with one another only when it’s to their own benefit. The males in the wasp society haven’t even come up yet. They’re raised by the females, lead a brief nomadic life, mate, and die. They never work for the community. We wondered why not. Our experiments showed that the male wasps, the drones, could contribute very well to the care of the larvae as long as they’re in the nest. But they don’t, because the females do the job much better. Basically, the males are superfluous, as far as work is concerned. That’s actually the case everywhere in nature, isn’t it? Yes. Among wasps as well as bees and ants, it’s especially clear: males aren’t necessarily even indispensable to reproduction. The queens’ sons hatch from unfertilised eggs. Only to have daughters do the queens have to mate. Then they receive the sperm in a pouch in their body where it stays fresh and can be used as needed. So the queen has complete control over the sex of her offspring! Couldn’t the queens also produce female offspring from unfertilised eggs? Then the insects could spare themselves the rearing of males altogether. Why is there sex at all? That’s one of the mysteries of the theory of evolution: a species consisting only of females could reproduce with half the effort – a huge advantage. But they would also be more susceptible to disease-causing agents. Those parasites are curbed by the fact that sexual reproduction constantly reshuffles the genes of their hosts. Which happens among only some of your wasps, however. All the drones of a colony genetically resemble their mother, the queen. As a result, the offspring are also much more closely related to one another than is the case among the offspring of other animals. That would explain the extreme cooperativeness. All altruistic acts remain in the family. That’s how it was explained for a long time. But we were able to show that things aren’t that simple. For example, we introduced one wasp colony into another. As expected, the resident workers tore the foreign queen to pieces. But her daughters, the young workers, were accepted into the colony without any trouble. They even provided the next queen. Now the insects in the nest were no longer all related but worked together anyway. You’re convinced that intelligence and even a certain for m of consciousness should be attributed to your wasps? Intelligence and consciousness can certainly be defined in such a way that insects are automatically excluded. But such linguistic conventions don’t interest me, because it’s clear that wasps are not merely robots. They learn, and their behavior isn’t simply predictable. What do they learn? Where their own strengths and weaknesses lie – for example, how successful they are at collecting food.You could say that they know their own personalities. ... taking care of animals ultimately teaches you to have a less inflated opinion of your own importance.