Contemplating Eusociality

Elizabeth Pennisi marvels at the social cooperation of ant, termites, bees and wasps:

Termites mate for life, with a single queen and “king” producing generations of siblings, all equally related to one another. Once in their lifetime, wasps, bees, and ants leave the nest on a mating frenzy, with the queens returning with enough sperm to last the rest of their reproductive years. The consequence of having just one mate for life is that the many generations of offspring are all siblings that on average share half their genes. That number of genes in common is the same as they would have in common with their own offspring should they try to reproduce. Thus, if there is even a small survival advantage to group living, that advantage would be a strong enough selective force to encourage the evolution of sterile castes and true eusociality, Boomsma argues. “When a parent refrains from mating with any additional mates, their offspring are free to stop mating at all,” he explains. However, strict monogamy is rare, particularly over evolutionary time scales, and thus, so is eusociality.