Prof. Joseph Levine

Senior Psychiatrist




Conversation 27: The evolution of social influence mechanisms in group animals: Chapter 1: Invertebrates: ants and bees

By Prof. Levine & Dr. Salganik

In the upcoming talks we will discuss the mechanisms of influence and social interaction in group animals and raise the question to what extent they have individual brain representations of their peers.

In this conversation we will discuss invertebrates such as bees and ants, while in the following conversations we will discuss vertebrates such as fish and birds, various mammals including dolphins, and finally monkeys whose genome is close but not identical to that of humans, Homo sapiens.

As a general rule, in insects, bees and ants have a clear division of roles, and a morphological [formal] change is evident in them according to their roles in the group, when the role is usually relatively defined and fixed at different times during life. Bees and ants usually build complex structures that require the cooperation of group members. The question arises as to how the ant or the bee know their roles in building the structure. Does each have a general plan of the nest structure or does each only have a specific function within the structure. We note that even if each does not have a general plan of the structure, it is still possible to create a complex structure if there are certain interactions between the members of the group according to specific representations in their brains. We note that the influence of the members of the group on each other can be done in different ways, whether by contact or the secretion of pheromones or in other ways. As a general rule, it is certain that ants or bees do not have a developed brain representation of their counterparts as in humans, but there is probably a partial representation that is nevertheless necessary for their interactions.

See: Wyatt TD. Introduction to Chemical Signaling in Vertebrates and Invertebrates. In: Mucignat-Caretta C, editor. Neurobiology of Chemical Communication. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2014. Chapter 1

Below we will ask a number of questions relevant to the social interactions in bees and ants with the help of a variety of sources including; PUBMED : GPT; WIKIPEDIA GOOGLE; and we will discuss each of them:

What can be learned about the social interactions of bees and ants?

Bees and ants are social insects that exhibit highly organized and complex social lives. By studying these insects, we can learn some important lessons about their social behaviors and organization. Here are some key lessons we can learn:

1. Cooperation and division of labor: Bees and ants show the power of cooperation and division of labor within a social group. Each member of the colony has a specific role and contributes to the general functioning and survival of the community. By working together and specializing in different tasks, they can achieve complex goals more effectively.

2. Communication and information sharing: Bees and ants communicate with each other using different methods such as pheromones, body language and vibration. They can convey information about food sources, potential threats and the location of the nest or hive. The lesson here is the importance of effective communication and information sharing within a community to ensure its success.

3. Sacrifice for the common good: In both bees and ants, individuals are often willing to sacrifice their own well-being for the sake of the colony. This selflessness is seen, for example, when worker bees sting intruders at the cost of their lives, or when soldier ants protect the nest from predators. These behaviors teach us the importance of putting the needs of the group above personal interests.

4. Adaptability and resilience: Bees and ants are highly adaptable creatures that can respond to changes in their environment quickly. They can adjust their foraging patterns, nesting locations and social structure to cope with challenges such as resource scarcity or predation.

5. Effective resource management: Bees and ants excel at resource management. They store surplus food, regulate population growth and optimize their collection routes to maximize efficiency.

6. Collective decision-making: Bees and ants make decisions as a group, often in a consensus-based approach. For example, when a swarm of honey bees needs to find a new nesting site, the scout bees explore different options, return to the swarm and perform a "dance" that communicates the quality and location of the potential sites. The swarm decides collectively on the best option..

7. Social hierarchy and organization: Both bees and ants have hierarchical social structures, with individuals playing different roles and different levels of authority. The queen bee or queen ant plays a crucial role as the reproductive leader, while worker bees or ants perform special tasks. Studying their social organization can provide insights into effective leadership, coordination, and the benefits of a well-structured society.

By examining the social lives of bees and ants, we can gain important insights into teamwork, communication, selflessness, adaptation, efficient resource management, collective decision making, and social organization.

How do the bees coordinate their interaction to build the hive?

Building a beehive is a highly coordinated process and is an example of social behavior in insects. This is how honey bees coordinate this process:

1. Division of work: different bees have different roles in the hive, depending on their age and the needs of the colony. Young worker bees, for example, are usually responsible for building and repairing the hive, while older worker bees are more likely to be involved in foraging or protecting the hive. This division of labor helps ensure that all necessary tasks are carried out efficiently.

2. Communication: The bees communicate with each other using a variety of methods, including pheromones (chemical signals) and movements such as "dancing". When it comes to building hives, bees can use these methods to signal where construction is needed, or indicate the need for additional building materials.

3. Temperature control: The bees control the temperature of the hive to ensure optimal conditions for the production and manipulation of wax. They can raise the temperature by vibrating their flight muscles, and they can cool the hive by fanning their wings to circulate air.

4. The construction process: bees work by excreting flakes of wax from glands on their abdomen, which they chew to soften and mold into the hexagonal cells of the honeycomb. They use a font to measure the cells and make sure they are the right size and shape. The cells are all built at a slight upward angle to prevent the honey from dripping out.

5. Colony Consensus: When it comes to major decisions like moving the hive, the honeybees can make collective decisions by reaching consensus. Scout bees will search for potential new locations, then return to the hive and perform wading dances to communicate the location and quality of the sites they have found. The other bees will decide which site to choose based on the intensity and frequency of the dances.

In general, building a beehive is a complex process that requires cooperation and coordination from the entire bee colony.

ומה בעניין דבש? השאלה בדבר יכולת דבורים לחוש כאב ולסבול - אנונימוס לזכויות  בעלי חיים

How do the queen bees and worker bees build a beehive in nature and who is responsible for this?

In nature, bees create hives without human intervention. The worker bees are responsible for building the hives, not the queen. The process usually proceeds as follows:

1. Location search: The scout bees will search for a suitable location for a new hive. This can be a tree cavity, a hollow log or other sheltered places. The ideal location would be protected from the elements and predators, and there would be enough room for the colony to grow.

2. Building the hive: As soon as a location is found, the worker bees will start building the hive. The bees secrete a substance called beeswax from glands on their abdomen. They chew the wax until it becomes pliable, then use it to build hexagonal cells. These cells form the honeycomb structure of the beehive. The hexagon shape is highly efficient, requires less wax and provides more storage space than other shapes.

3. The queen's role: While the worker bees are responsible for building the hive, the queen's role is to populate it. The main function of the queen bee is to lay eggs. She is the mother of all the bees in the colony. Once the worker bees have built up enough of the hive for the queen to begin laying eggs, she will begin to do so. These eggs will hatch into larvae, which the worker bees will feed and care for until they mature into adult bees.

4. Ongoing maintenance and expansion: As the colony grows, the worker bees will continue to build and repair the hive as needed. They will add new cells for the queen to lay eggs in, as well as storage cells for honey and pollen. If part of the hive is damaged, the worker bees will repair it.

It is important to note that the division of labor in a bee colony is very organized, where each bee has a specific role to play according to its age and the needs of the colony.

הדבורים המתנחלות שמחפשות בית חדש

What happens to a bee that does not function properly in this social system?

As mentioned, the bees function as part of a colony, and each bee has a specific role. If a bee is not functioning properly, its fate will depend on the specific circumstances:

1. Worker bees: they are responsible for many tasks such as searching for food, cleaning the hive, caring for larvae and protecting the hive. If a worker bee is unable to perform its task effectively, it is likely that it will die outside the hive during foraging or natural causes. The hive is usually not significantly affected because worker bees are numerous and interchangeable.

2. Males: their main purpose is to mate with the queen. If a male is unable to fulfill this role, this is usually not a problem for the hive as there are usually many males. Males are often ejected from the hive at the end of the season or during periods of resource scarcity.

3. Queen: The role of the queen is to lay eggs. If she becomes unproductive or dies, the colony can create a new queen by feeding a worker bee larva with a special diet of queen food. If the malfunction of the queen is not noticed in time or a new queen cannot be produced, this may lead to the collapse of the entire colony.

4. Sick or parasitic bees: If a bee is sick or parasitic, it may endanger the whole hive. The bees have evolved behaviors to reduce this risk. One such behavior is called "altruistic suicide," where sick bees leave the hive to die elsewhere, thereby not spreading the disease or the parasite. Another behavior is "hygienic behavior", where healthy bees identify and eliminate the sick bee or often remove the sick bees from the hive to prevent the spread of disease.

Therefore, if a bee is not functioning properly, it is usually replaced in order to avoid more serious problems for the hive, depending on the role and the details of the situation.

What are the functions of a queen bee?

A queen bee plays a crucial role in the functioning of the honey bee colony. Here is an overview of how a queen bee works:

1. Reproduction: The main function of a queen bee is to lay eggs and ensure the continuity of the colony. She is the only fertile female in the colony and mates with male bees early in her life. The queen stores the sperm from these matings in a special organ and uses it throughout her life to fertilize eggs.

2. Laying eggs: The queen bee has a special organ called an ovipositor, through which she lays eggs. She can lay thousands of eggs a day in peak season. The eggs are laid in cells inside the honeycomb, and each egg has the potential to develop into a new worker bee, male or queen.

3. Production of pheromones: The queen and the bees produce pheromones, which are chemical signals that help regulate the behavior and development of the colony. The main pheromone produced by the queen is called "queen mandibular pheromone" (QMP). This pheromone helps maintain the unity and harmony of the colony by inhibiting the development of other queens and regulating the behavior of worker bees.

4. The organization of the colony: the presence of a queen bee affects the social structure of the colony. The worker bees, which are barren females, perform various tasks such as cleaning the hive, searching for nectar and pollen, building and maintaining the hive. The queen's pheromones help coordinate these activities and maintain the overall organization of the colony.

5. Queen replacement: The life span of the queen bee is limited, and usually ranges from one to five years, although they are most fertile in the first two years. As the queen ages or if she becomes less productive, the worker bees may decide to replace her. They can raise a new queen by selecting a young caterpillar and feeding it a special diet called queen food, which stimulates its development into a queen.

In summary, the function of the queen bee revolves around reproduction, laying eggs, producing pheromones and maintaining the social organization of the colony. Her presence ensures the survival and growth of the honey bee colony.

Does a worker bee or queen bee have a representation of other bees in her mind?

There is no direct evidence to suggest that bees have a "representation" of other bees in their brains in the way that humans might conceptualize other individuals. However, they have complex social behaviors that require some form of recognition and communication.

1. Recognition: Bees, especially honey bees, are known to recognize and remember their hive mates by smell. Each bee has a unique odor associated with its genetic lineage, and bees use this information to detect intruders.

2. Communication: Bees also have complex communication systems. For example, worker bees perform a "waddling dance" to communicate the location of food sources to other bees. This indicates that they have some understanding of the needs and reactions of other bees.

3. The queen: The queen has a unique role in the hive. They produce pheromones that regulate the behavior and physiology of worker bees. The females, in turn, feed and take care of the queen. This indicates a certain level of mutual recognition and understanding of roles.

While these behaviors indicate a form of social understanding and organization, it is not the same as having a mental "representation" of other individuals as complex, independent entities, as seen in higher mammals. This level of cognition has therefore not been demonstrated in bees.

דבורת הדבש (סוג) – ויקיפדיה

דבש בלי דבורים? עכשיו זה אפשרי | כלכליסט

How do ants affect each other?

Ants are social insects that live in highly organized colonies. They communicate and influence each other through different mechanisms. Here are some ways ants affect each other:

1. Chemical communication: Ants use chemical signals called pheromones to communicate with each other. Pheromones are released by ants and can convey information about food sources, danger, nest location and even specific tasks. Ants leave pheromone trails to guide other ants to food sources or to mark safe paths.

2. Tactile communication: ants also communicate through physical contact. They use their antennae to touch and communicate with each other. For example, they might tap each other to send a message or share information about a particular location.

3. Trophallaxis: Ants engage in trophallaxis, which is the exchange of food or other fluids between individuals. This behavior allows them to share nutrients and information. Ants bring food back to other members of the colony, especially the young and their nestmates.

4. Recruitment: When ants discover a new food source, they communicate its location and quality to other colony members. This recruitment process involves a combination of pheromones and physical interactions. The recruiting ant may lead other ants to the food source using a pheromone trail, or it may physically guide them.

5. Division of labor: Ant colonies exhibit a division of labor, with individual ants specializing in specific tasks based on their age or physiology. This specialization allows the ants to work together effectively. The presence of certain cues, such as pheromones or interactions with other ants, can influence the ant's behavior and cause a change in its mission.

6. Social learning: Ants can learn from each other and adjust their behavior based on observations. For example, a scout ant may learn about a more efficient route to a food source by watching other ants and adjust its behavior accordingly.

These different forms of communication and interaction allow the ants to work together as a cohesive unit, coordinate activities and respond to changes in their environment. Their ability to influence each other contributes to the overall success and survival of the ant colony.

עיר נמלים: איך תוכלו להיפטר במהירות וביעילות מהנמלים בבית - Xnet

Does each individual ant have its own different smell and pheromone?

Yes, each ant has its own unique chemical profile or "smell". These chemical signals, consisting mainly of hydrocarbons, are located on the exoskeleton of the ant. The unique profile can assist communication in creating a personal identity and can also indicate the health status of the ant, its age and fertility.

In addition to individual scent signatures, ants also have a colony-specific scent. This smell is a mixture of the different chemical signals from all the ants in the colony, and it is what allows the ants to identify the members of the colony. If the ant does not have such a colony smell (such as a foreign ant from another colony), it will be recognized as an invader.

However, while each ant has a unique chemical signature, it is important to note that of course ants do not necessarily recognize each other as individuals in the way that humans might recognize each other. Instead, they pick up specific information encoded in these chemical signals, such as colony membership, caste, and reproductive status. The overall organization and behavior of the colony results from these individual interactions.

חכמת ההמונים של הנמלים - הידען

What are the functions of the queen ant?

The queen ant has several important roles in an ant colony:

1. Reproduction: The main function of the queen ant is to reproduce. She is the mother of all or most of the ants in the colony. After a nuptial flight, during which she mates with males, the queen loses her wings and finds a suitable place to lay her eggs. Some species have more than one queen in each colony, but usually there is only one queen in a colony.

2. Colony initiation: A queen ant that has just mated will establish a new colony. She digs a small chamber in the ground or finds another suitable place, where she lays her eggs and takes care of the first batch of worker ants. Once the worker ants emerge, they take on the tasks of foraging and expanding the nest, while the queen continues to lay eggs.

3. Production of pheromones: Queen ants produce pheromones that help maintain the social structure of the colony. These chemicals suppress the reproductive abilities of worker ants, ensuring that the queen is the only ant that produces offspring. The queen's pheromones also broadcast her presence and health to the colony, helping to maintain social cohesion.

4. Genetic diversity: By mating with multiple males during their nuptial flight, ant queens can increase the genetic diversity within their colonies. This variety can help the colony to be more resistant to diseases and changing environmental conditions.

The role of the queen can vary depending on the species of ant. For example, in some species, the queen also plays a role in foraging or protecting the colony. Also, some ant species are "queenless" and reproduce in other ways.

What is the difference between the brain of a queen ant and worker ants?

The brains of queen ants and worker ants are different, reflecting their different roles within the colony.

A queen ant usually has a larger body than worker ants, and this difference in size extends to their brains as well. However, it's not just about size. The specific areas of the brain that are more developed or more specialized can vary between queens and workers, reflecting their different roles and responsibilities.

For example, worker ants often have more developed olfactory lobes because they rely heavily on their sense of smell for foraging and communication. These lobes process information from the antennae, which are essential for detecting pheromones – chemicals that ants use to communicate with each other.

On the other hand, queen ants may have more developed areas of the brain associated with reproductive behaviors. After the queen has mated and established a new colony, her main job is to lay eggs and ensure the survival of the colony, so areas of her brain associated with these functions may be more developed.

In addition, queens flying to mate and establish new colonies may have more developed visual processing areas because they rely on vision for navigation during their nuptial flight.

However, it is important to note that our understanding of the neurobiology of ants is not as advanced as our understanding of other organisms. Much of what we know is based on observation of behavior and comparative anatomy, with some insights from genetic and neurobiological studies. The details can also vary between different species of ants, as they have different lifestyles and behaviors.

מה הקשר בין פעילות הנמלים למזג האוויר? בתש'י

What happens to a dysfunctional ant in the nest?

Ants, like many social insects, have highly organized colonies with a clear division of labor. If an ant becomes dysfunctional or sick, this can have serious consequences for the colony due to the possible spread of disease. Here's what usually happens:

1. Isolation: Ants have evolved to recognize when a member of their colony is sick or dysfunctional. They use their developed sense of smell to detect changes in pheromones. Once a sick or dysfunctional ant is discovered, it may be isolated from the rest of the colony. This is a behavior observed in certain species that helps prevent the spread of infection.

2. Removal: In some cases, worker ants may physically carry a non-functioning ant out of the nest. This is usually observed when an ant dies. This behavior, known as necrophoresis, serves to protect the rest of the colony from potential pathogens that may develop on the dead ant's body.

3. Altruistic self-removal: Interestingly, some ants instinctively leave the colony and isolate themselves when they are very sick or on the verge of death, a behavior known as "altruistic self-removal". This is another way ants prevent disease from spreading within the colony.

4. Treatment: Some of the ant species have even been observed engaging in a form of medical treatment. They will treat their sick nestmates in different ways to remove the harmful pathogen load from their bodies. This behavior has been observed in several species, including African weaver ants and European wood ants.

These behaviors vary greatly between different ant species and colonies, and not all ants will exhibit all of these behaviors. But overall, ants have developed impressive social behaviors to deal with disease and dysfunction in their colonies, all with the goal of maintaining the overall health and survival of the colony.

Is there a specific plan for an ant nest?

Ant colonies, despite their complexity, do not have a precise "blueprint" in the way that humans can plan and build a structure. Instead, they use a system of simple rules and signals to collectively build and maintain their nests, a process sometimes known as stigmargy.

In stigmergy, the behavior of an individual ant is stimulated by the actions of other ants or by the environment itself. For example, if an ant finds a suitable piece of material (such as a grain of soil or a leaf), it places it there. Other ants, stimulated by the presence of the same piece, will deposit their pieces in the same place, and over time, this leads to building a structure.

Different species of ants build different types of nests, and they use different signals and behaviors to do so. For example, leafcutter ants will cut and carry pieces of leaves to their nest, where they use the leaves to nurture a fungus that they eat. Harvester ants will dig complex networks of tunnels and chambers in the ground. Army ants, on the other hand, are nomadic and do not build a permanent nest at all; Instead, they create a temporary "shelter" with their font.

The complexity and organization of an ant nest derives from the collective behavior of all the ants in the colony, each following a simple set of rules. This type of distributed organization is a common theme in social insects and is often referred to as "swarm intelligence". Despite the lack of central authority or a detailed plan, ant colonies are able to build complex structures perfectly suited to their needs.

Does the ant's brain represent and recognize other ants?

While ants do not have brains like humans, they do have a sophisticated central nervous system that allows them to process information, respond to their environment, and communicate with other ants.

Ants communicate mainly through chemical signals, or pheromones, which they can recognize and interpret. For example, ants can identify colony members (versus intruders) using colony-specific pheromones. They can also follow pheromone trails left by other ants to find food sources, and they can signal danger or other important information using different pheromones.

While ants cannot "recognize" other ants the way humans might recognize each other (ie, recognize faces visually), they can distinguish between different ants based on the chemical signals each ant produces. This allows them to identify members of their colony, distinguish between castes (such as workers, soldiers and queens), and even detect the health or condition of other ants.

More broadly, ants exhibit an extraordinary level of social organization and cooperation, sometimes referred to as "swarm intelligence." Each individual ant may not have much cognitive ability on its own, but as a colony, ants can solve complex problems and adapt to changing conditions in their environment.

למה נמלים עוקצות אנשים? | כלכליסט

See: Esponda F, Gordon DM. Distributed nestmate recognition in ants. Proc Biol Sci. 2015 May 7;282(1806):20142838.

What happens when a queen ant is not functioning?

When a queen ant is not functioning or not fulfilling its role in the ant colony, this can have significant consequences for the survival and functioning of the colony. Here are some possible scenarios:

1. Decrease in reproductive output: The main function of the queen ant is to reproduce and lay eggs. If a queen ant stops functioning or is unable to lay eggs, the reproductive output of the colony will decrease. This means that there will be fewer worker ants produced, which can eventually lead to a decline in the colony population.

2. Queen replacement: In some ant species, if the queen becomes non-functional or dies, the workers may try to replace her by choosing a new queen from among the existing workers. This process is known as "queen replacement" or "queen succession". The selected worker undergoes physical and physiological changes to become a reproductive queen. However, not all ant species have this ability, and colony survival may be compromised if a replacement queen is not successfully produced.

3. The weakening of the colony: without a functioning queen, the overall strength and stability of the ant colony may weaken. The queen releases pheromones that help maintain social order and coordination between the workers. These pheromones also play a crucial role in regulating the behavior and development of worker ants. The absence or decay of these pheromones may disrupt the normal functioning of the colony, which may lead to disorganization and a decrease in efficiency in tasks such as gathering food, protection and care.

4. Abandonment of the colony: In some cases, if the queen becomes non-functional or dies, the females may abandon the colony completely. Ant colonies are highly dependent on the presence of the queen for their survival and reproductive success. If the workers see that the colony is no longer viable without a functioning queen, they may disperse and try to join other neighboring colonies or establish new colonies elsewhere.

It is important to note that the exact consequences of a dysfunctional queen ant can vary depending on the species of ants and the specific circumstances within the colony. Some ant species may be more resilient and adaptive in dealing with the loss of a queen, while others may struggle to survive or die out without a replacement queen.

To summarize: bees and ants have a very structured eusocial society, consisting of three main castes: queens, which are reproductive females, males who assist in reproduction, and workers, which are sterile females who perform various tasks. Queens are responsible for reproduction and establishing new colonies, while males exist primarily to mate with the queens. Ants and worker bees fulfill the rest of the colony's needs, including gathering food, caring for the offspring, protecting the colony and maintaining the nest. This eusocial structure has a great impact on the survival and robustness of both species, allowing them to adapt and thrive in different environments.

Communication is also key in these societies, with pheromones playing a central role in regulating social behavior and assigning tasks between individuals. As mentioned, while ants cannot "recognize" other ants in the way that humans might recognize each other (ie, recognize faces visually), they can distinguish between different ants based on the chemical signals that each ant produces. This allows them to identify members of their colony, distinguish between castes (such as workers, soldiers and queens), and even identify the health or condition of other ants. More broadly, ants exhibit an extraordinary level of social organization and cooperation, sometimes referred to as "swarm intelligence." Each individual ant may not have much cognitive ability on its own, but as a colony, ants can solve complex problems and adapt to changing conditions in their environment.

Best regards and see you in the next conversations

Dr. Igor Salganik and Prof. Joseph Levine

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