What is Eusocial?

Continuing the discussion from Ann Gauger: Did the Human Brain Evolve?:

This sounds more like a theory of mind.

What is eusocial? Are bonobos and meerkats eusocial too?

I’m only familiar with the term eusocial being applied to colony-forming insect species (plus a few other non-insect groups, here and there), where there are one or more reproductive queens, assisted by non-reproductive offspring who perform various tasks. From wiki:

Eusociality (from Greek εὖ eu “good” and social), the highest level of organization of sociality, is defined by the following characteristics: cooperative brood care (including care of offspring from other individuals), overlapping generations within a colony of adults, and a division of labor into reproductive and non-reproductive groups. The division of labor creates specialized behavioral groups within an animal society which are sometimes called castes. Eusociality is distinguished from all other social systems because individuals of at least one caste usually lose the ability to perform at least one behavior characteristic of individuals in another caste.

In other words, ants are eusocial, some other wasps and bees are eusocial, termites are eusocial, and naked mole rats are eusocial. I’m not aware of any other cases. There are many cooperative breeders in which some individuals temporarily defer breeding to raise siblings or other relatives, but it’s not a permanent condition.

So this just does not seem to be what distinguishes us from [other] apes, right?

Not in any way. And you mean “what distinguishes us from other apes”.

Read the quote in the OP.

Yes, Gauger had that bit right. Good for her. But her understanding of the term “eusocial” is non-standard.

I think that was from @nwrickert, not @Agauger. What am I missing?

The question is what I’m missing, which appears to be the attribution of the quote. Substitute whoever wrote it for Gauger.

I had always understood that this is the critical element of the definition of eusociality:

Eusociality is distinguished from all other social systems because individuals of at least one caste usually lose the ability to perform at least one behavior characteristic of individuals in another caste.

I assume that the word usually within that sentence means that one can occasionally identify specific individuals in a caste which have atypically retained an ability which their peers have lost. I had never noticed that potential exception before. I wonder how common they are. Does this arise due to a mutation or did some inhibitor biochemical fail to do its part? Just curious.

Great topic for a thread.

I suggest reading The Insect Societies by E. O. Wilson, in which this sort of thing is discussed extensively. In some species, if the sole breeding female is removed, one of the workers will become a new queen. In some species, workers will sometimes lay fertile eggs, which the queen tries to find and eat. There is clearly a continuum between cooperative breeding and eusociality, with no absolute dividing line.

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Fascinating. I didn’t know that. I only knew of the whole royal jelly “chosen one” story.

I suppose that some ID and YEC ministries are claiming that such caste insect species could never have evolved from natural processes and must have been specifically designed that way.

I don’t want to distract the thread but this topic also brings to mind bizarre organisms like Tetrahymena thermophila, which I’ve heard have seven “sexes” of a sort. I realize that that is something quite different from castes but I can’t help but imagine ways in which evolutionary processes could have produced such a strange organism. (And it surely must vex some people who have a habit of conflating biological phenomena and political stances.)

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That’s in honeybees, a single species among hundreds of eusocial (and otherwise) hymenopterans.

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Indeed, but it is the species that gets so much of the popular press and PBS documentary coverage. For that matter, it even got its own animated movie, thanks to Jerry Seinfeld.

Eusocial hymenopteran diversity in American cinema has yet to bee.

(And, yes, @Dan_Eastwood, I am intentionally avoiding the all too easy Hamlet quote.)

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I have no expertise in this area.

Humans are intensely social, in ways that other apes are not.

I hear (from my reading) that there are two mammal species that are said to be eusocial. Humans are one of those. And naked mole rats are said to be the other. But maybe that’s just the judgment of one person that I happened to read. I’m not sure why prairie dogs don’t also qualify.

If I wanted to look for something comparable to human language, I would look toward prairie dogs and naked mole rats. And with those species, I would look at social communication, which might be in a very different form from the ways that humans communicate. I’m not aware of any other species that is sufficiently social to be likely candidates.

I thought I had read a paper somewhere indicating that the whole “prairie dogs have complex language” conclusion was from poor methodologies and flawed stats from one scientist. Anybody here familiar with this?

Sorry to be so nebulous on that but I recall it being cited as an example of the layperson science journalism press going overboard on just one scientist’s work before it had gone through peer-review. Please correct me if I remembered incorrectly.

Not if you accept the standard definition of “eusocial”.