Tough policing deters cheating in insects

11:22am, November 20, 2006

Coercion plays a big role in keeping workers in line in insect societies—in some species, as big a role as family ties do, according to a new study.

In many wasp and bee societies, workers are anatomically equipped to lay their own eggs, but rarely do so while their queen's alive. Instead, they raise the queen's offspring.

Several forces could drive such altruistic babysitting, and a research team came up with a way to compare the strength of two forces: family ties and police work. The queen's offspring are the workers' siblings and half-siblings, so raising them could be a worthwhile reproductive effort for the workers. Meanwhile, in the insect version of a police crackdown, the queen or workers kill an egg that was laid illicitly by a worker (SN: 3/19/05, p.184: Cops with Six Legs).

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