Introductory Case: Life of termites as eusocial insects

In my introduction to the concept of emergence, I talked about termites and other eusocial insects as one of the best examples of emerging intelligence. With the term emerging intelligence I mean a robust, adaptable, and complicated mind emerged from the interaction of simple minded entities.

Life of Termites as eusocial insects

In the above photo, you can see various structures made by termites. Actually these are the cities they live in. Every single colony can have millions of members. Considering the structure, scientists believe that the complexity level of these colonies is close to a mid-size city.

But before talking more about termites, would be better to make a definition of the term eusocial insects and eusociality.

Any insect species that are living together can be called social insects. But the term eusociality (originally coined by Suzanne Batra) means the most complicated social system among insects recognised by three basic characteristics:

  • Conducting cooperative care of young. Even when are not directly their offspring.
  •  A clear division of labor
  • Overlapping of generations, helping the experience to be transferred from the olds to the youngs.

There are various eusocial insect species which ants, bees and termites are most studied ones. But termites are more interesting as some of them build their cities not under the ground but over the ground just like our skyscrapers.

Living for about 300 million years on the earth, although they have been breakfast of dinosaurs, their robust society structure gave them the chance to see their extinction and even chances are high that they see extinction of human species. Currently, the total weight of the termites is more than the total weight of the humans on the planet. Every single termite lives for several years. But termite colony lives for even more than one century.

So if we consider survival as the most important desire of all the species (including humans) seems that termites have been more intelligent to find a practical solution for this quest.

Still considering an individual termite, it has one of the simplest minds ever existed on earth. But considering the termite society, there’s an emerged mind more complicated and more productive than human mind. No centralized government. Not any sign of democracy. Not any means of complicated communication tools or message broadcasting services. But making the best decisions:

  • Where to build the city?
  • When to leave the city?
  • How to design the structure of the streets and homes?
  • When help the others and when leave them to die in favor of the society?

Yes. We can be proud that we are more conscious than termites. But, to be honest, there’s no proof for that. As the ability to speak is not a proof of conscientiousness. and tool making is not a proof of intelligence if it can not help our society to live longer. Sure if aliens with no human bias come to the earth and observe us for a long period of time they will vote for termites as a more powerful and adaptable entity.

How does it happen? With a very clear and simple structure. They have three different categories with different duties in the society called castes:

  • Soldier termites (usually blind and without a developed eye) with strength and armor prepared to defend society against ant attack. They are not even able to feed themselves. They are fed by worker ants through their mouth or anus.
  • Worker termites responsible for food storage, nest maintenance and digestion of cellulose for the others.
  • Reproductive termites specialized in egg laying. A mature queen may produce 20000 to 30000 eggs a day.


Image Source: Cozypad

Termite society is the best demonstration of the emergence concept. Simple minded individuals (we call them agents) do a very simple duty (we call it task or interaction) for the society (we call it a system) and the new characteristics emerge. The ones who has no similarity to the basic characteristics of agents.

The most complicated emergence case we ever recognized is the human brain. Individual neurons with simple characteristics combined together and a complicated system emerged which we call it brain.

To be more precise, a complicated system is emerged and called itself brain. As the brain is the only existing entity who named itself.

In future articles, I will try to show you that the brains are not the most complicated emergent system anymore. We have more complicated living digital entities which are not recognised as most intelligent and adaptable living entities of the world yet!