Why is hierarchy so important in insects?

Living in a structured society helps insects act as one large organism rather than individuals fending for themselves

 

Members of insect colonies have different roles that are determined by their DNA and each is responsible for various tasks that solitary animals would have to tackle alone. Termites, for example, have five distinct forms that each serve a different purpose.

 

Termites live and work together in one tight knit community.

 

Workers

Blind and sterile worker termites are responsible for gathering food, maintaining the home and assisting the queen. Most of the termites in any colony are workers and they work in efficient teams to achieve tasks. While some workers climb plant stems to shear off leaves, others on the ground gather and transport the food home.

Soldiers

Anta are the biggest threat to termite colonies so soldier termites have powerful jaws to battle invaders. They rely on their sense of touch and chemical detection to identify trails left by ants because they are blind, but unlike soft-bodied workers they are heavily armoured.

Alates

Alates are fertile termites that begin new colonies. When they grow their wings after hatching they leave their home in a swarm, and fly to a new location. They lose their wings on landing, and mating pairs become the king and queen of the new colony.

The king

The founder and maintainer of the colony is the king, who mates with the queen for his entire life. His role is thought to be solely to breed, even though the queen can produce simple offspring without a mate.

The queen

Living 45 to 50 years, the queen termite is responsible for laying eggs and she can produce 30 000 eggs in a single day. The egg sac she carries fills her abdomen to the point she can hardly move without assistance from worker termites.

 

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Image from www.flickr.com/photos/stuutje