More Fun Than Fun: How Do Insect Societies Deal With Infectious Diseases
March 31, 2021 2:41 PM   Subscribe

...Colonies of social insects such as those of ants, bees, wasps and termites present parasites with a paradise of sorts: they contain densely packed individuals that are also rather genetically similar and hence of similar susceptibility. Not surprisingly, parasites are the scourge of insect societies. But insect societies have not only survived this scourge but are among the most evolutionarily successful and ecologically dominant members of Earth’s terrestrial fauna.
More Fun Than Fun: How Do Insect Societies Deal With Infectious Diseases?
posted by y2karl (6 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
It’s not a new insight, but it may be best to think of a beehive as a single organism rather than a commune.
posted by sjswitzer at 5:56 PM on March 31, 2021 [1 favorite]

Bees have an inapparent resource of disease resistance: queen promiscuity!

The average queen mates with 12 drones, and each drone produces its own little tribe of workers within the hive.
posted by jamjam at 8:01 PM on March 31, 2021 [3 favorites]

sjswitzer: It’s not a new insight, but it may be best to think of a beehive as a single organism rather than a commune.

If you draw that parallel out, then the yearly worker rebellions described in the European bumble bee would be cancer leading to death.

(...with the cancer cells, HeLa-like, living on.)
posted by clawsoon at 9:29 PM on March 31, 2021

something something social dist-ants-ing
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:09 AM on April 1, 2021 [5 favorites]

As a result, the parasite and the queens more or less break-even but at the cost of the workers, who don’t get to produce their own sons. Machiavellian indeed! I suspect that natural selection can’t easily come to the rescue of the workers who lose out in this game because the ‘losing’ workers can nevertheless gain indirect fitness by raising the queen’s offspring, by the process of kin selection.

Among the Hymenoptera, workers are actually more closely related to their sisters than they are to their own sons so it makes sense for them to raise their diploid siblings. Female bees are diploid, fertilised queens can lay both diploid females and haploid male eggs, workers can lay haploid male eggs only.

The trigger for workers to start laying their own eggs (among the bumblebees) is the queen laying male eggs which she only does late in the season. Since the workers are less closely related to their brothers than they are to their own sons, this triggers them to start laying male eggs of their own. Honey bee workers sometimes lay eggs when the hive is queenless but they haven't got the annual lifecycle that the bumblebees do.
posted by atrazine at 6:37 AM on April 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

This fascinated me:
...Walter Rothenbuhler, a professor in the departments of zoology and entomology at the Ohio State University, was intrigued and decided to investigate. He found that the resistance developed by Brown’s bees to AFB was of a most interesting kind. The bees evolved a specific form of hygienic behaviour – their workers uncapped the cells containing dead pupae and removed their corpses – leading to them being called ‘hygienic bees’. Rothenbuhler’s observations and experiments showed that resistance to the disease, including the behaviours of uncapping and removing corpses, was genetically determined.

In fact, he was able to cross hygienic bees with the normal non-hygienic (wild-type) bees and show that two separate genes were involved in conferring resistance: one gene for uncapping and another for removing. He experimentally produced bees with one of these genes in the mutated form and the other in wild-type form. Thus, some of his bees uncapped cells containing sick pupae but failed to remove the corpses, while others failed to uncap cells but removed diseased pupae if Rothenbuhler kindly uncapped them.

Only if they had both mutated genes were they capable of uncapping as well as removing the diseased pupae. This was one of the early demonstrations of the genetic basis of complex behaviour.
posted by y2karl at 9:42 AM on April 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

« Older (Don't) stop your good time dancing   |   Malign Directive Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments