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Bees are people too, and “the pinnacle of social living”?

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In “Scientists discover soldier bees”(BBC Nature, 10 January 2012), Victoria Gill reportson Brazil’s Jatai soldier bees who spend a week guarding the wax entrance tube to their nest against robber bees:

The scientists actually tested the soldier bees’ ability to fend off a robber, “staging fights” between the two insects. They held a robber bee close to the entrance tube of a Jatai bee nest and watched the Jatai soldiers’ reaction.

The much smaller Jatai soldier bees used their jaws to clamp onto the robber bees’ wings, immobilising their attacker.

The outmatched Jatai’s are ultimately killed during these fights. They seem to “sacrifice themselves” to protect the colony, Prof Ratnieks said.

He added: “These bees represent the pinnacle of social living.”

Interesting bout of anthropomorphism there. Attributing human thoughts/characteristics to insects feels especially odd considering that the soldier bee does not know that it will die, nor does the colony, nor does the colony care.

One encounters this same sort of talk with respect to slime mold colonies where some members “sacrifice themselves” for the good of the colony. That’s a silly way of putting it. They don’t know that that is the outcome of their programmed activities and it’s not clear that they or any other portion of the mold cares either.

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