Offered every other year, spring semester
Next offered: Spring 2010
3 credits; meeting times: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9:00 -
This course covers the biology of social insects, especially the
"eusocial" (truly social) wasps, bees, ants, and termites. These
animals are remarkable for several characteristics, which serve as the
basis for exploration of general principles about the evolution of
social behavior, the nature of communication, self-organization, and
population and community ecology. We will cover four major topics:
- The diversity of social insects.
A survey of the life histories, phylogeny, and social organization of
the major groups of social insects. The social lives of insects
are compared to those of highly social vertebrates.
- The control of reproduction.
Eusocial insect colonies display reproductive division of labor.
In extreme cases, millions of non-reproductive workers labor their
entire lives to support reproduction by a single reproductive female --
the queen -- and her mates. How has this pattern evolved?
Major themes include kin selection, and the mix of competition and
cooperation that characterizes animal societies.
- Individual and collective action.
We will explore the behavioral capabilities of social insects at the
individual and group levels, including the mechanisms of communication,
foraging, defense, and orientation. How does the behavior of the
group arise from the decisions and interactions of individuals?
- The ecology of social insects.
Social insects are among the most abundant animals in terrestrial
ecosystems and collectively outweigh solitary insects in many
habitats. Topics covered include population dynamics and spatial
patterns of social insects, their interactions with other organisms (as
predators, hosts to parasites, pollinators, etc.), the organization of
communities, and the importance of social insects to humans.