Analysis of Inherited Behaviors

(Herculean Skeptic) #1

My dear friend, Dr. Patrick Trischitta, (@Patrick) had graciously offered to mentor me. The video clip linked below was my very first homework assignment. It is a truly amazing video and story highlighting one of the nature’s wonders being utilized today in architecture.

Watching this video, I couldn’t help but wonder about the behavioral aspects of the termite. Like ants and bees, they are amazing social creatures who build incredibly engineered abodes and perform specific roles across their short lives. I’ve seen studies before showing how creatures are able to inherit behavioral functionality (is that the right term?) over time, and don’t question it at all. That said, I fully expected that this model of advanced engineering would have evolved over time wherein one could see the structures in which they live become more complex and functional over time.

I did a bit of searching and found the opposite, really. Much to my surprise.

Nests dated to 155 million years old were found in abundance showing that termites were more widely distributed at that time than previously thought. Additionally, remnants were found of ancient “fungal gardens” the “size of softballs” within the nests. Today’s termites are known to cultivate similar fungal gardens which help to maintain humidity and temperature in the nests.

This brings to mind a few questions:

  1. Would it be typical to expect that this kind of engineering capability would be possessed by early forms of these termites?
  2. If not, is there any way of guessing or forecasting by comparison to any similar situation how long this ability might take to be assimilated into a population?
  3. Would any expect that the termite would evolve with this ability in place? If so, what kind of bandwidth would such knowledge take up if it were conveyed through genetic code when the termite first evolved?
  4. If this behavior / knowledge is not expected to be possessed initially (in very early termite forms), would it not have to be acquired / developed very quickly before the termite became geographically distributed around the planet? (And went on to build similar structures in geographically disparate locations?)

The research is dated, but seems to be echoed in many other articles, but there may be more recent research that sheds a different light on the subject. I’m not certain.

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #2

What in the world does this have to do with making you an atheist?

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(Herculean Skeptic) #3

I don’t know the answer to that question, either. I’ve not gotten too far in the whole tutoring process, yet. @Patrick do you recall?


Micheal, I have no interest in turning you towards atheism but I do have an interest in discussing evolution (which is neutral on the God hypothesis) with you. Regarding termites they evolved their design and engineering abilities a long time ago perhaps as long as 155 million years ago. Their technology and culture has essentially has stayed the same for tens of millions of years. Maybe small adaptions here and there but no major advance in termite technology and culture for millions of years. That is evolution - organism evolve and adapt to environment. No intelligence needed, or perhaps just a small amount of termite intelligence in their little brains.

Don’t be afraid to explore all aspect of evolution and the other sciences. I won’t make you atheist. Some of the scientific findings may make you revisit your faith and make adjustments as to what is important to your life’s purpose and meaning and what is not.

(Herculean Skeptic) #5

Patrick: I’m sorry, I was teasing about the “turn me to atheism” part. I am going to edit the post and take the joke out because people here are too literal for me! It was 100% joke, but I was serious about the rest of the post.

I had an expectation that the social structure and engineered aspects of their nest would have evolved over time, but there was not any evidence of this being so. In fact, the 155 MYO nests appeared to contain the fungi garden that is present in today’s termite nest.

I’m just wondering how one unpacks these aspects in an evolutionary framework. Is this surprising to you?


Ok, no problem. I find that the litle smiley emoji work when joking. I use them all the time because my humor tends to be sardonic, snarky, and sometimes absurd with a ring of truth in it. :rofl:

(Herculean Skeptic) #7

Or, as we like to say here, the “appearance of truth to it…” :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: