Following up on my recent post about nature showing us that social distancing is nothing new, I’d like to share how some species choose new leaders. You might be surprised to see that some of the ways used by voters in nature are not altogether different from how we choose or dispose of a leader.
At Mills College in Oakland, California, Jennifer Smith has studied and compared leadership among various species, including humans. What she found is fascinating.
When beehives get overcrowded, typically during springtime, they use a democracy-like method to deal with the process of finding a new home. The queen bee selects about half of her underlings in the overcrowded hive to accompany her on a venture to find a spot to establish a new colony. They’ll take flight as a swarm and settle on a branch or another vantage point of the queen’s choice. If you see a swarm hanging from a branch, this is why.
Alluring displays to draw voters
From there, the queen sends out scouts to identify possible locations for a new abode. Each scout that finds a promising location returns and proceeds to do a “waggle dance.” The scout’s choice would follow inspections of the location’s size, the denseness of flowers close by and the humidity. The more excited the scout is about its find, the more vigorous it would dance to catch voters’ attention. This dancing is similar to the alluring displays of our politicians to draw in voters.
As more scouts return from their reconnaissance flights, they will attempt to outdo the other dancers. The queen will send more scouts to inspect the location chosen by the most successful waggle dancer. Once the ideal spot is selected and upon the queen’s approval, the swarm will start establishing the new colony. In the meantime, back in the old hive, a new queen matures to reign over the remaining half of the worker bees that stayed behind.
Homing pigeons sometimes stage a coup
According to studies done at the zoology department of Oxford University, homing pigeons have two ways to replace their leaders. The study involved fitting some homing pigeons with tiny GPS backpacks. Flocks of pigeons follow their leaders in perfect formation and synchrony. However, they don’t hesitate to stage a coup if their leaders lead them in the wrong direction or show other weaknesses.
Ousting the leader
One method involves the leader realizing it is no longer fit to lead the flock. It will simply fall back and allow another pigeon to take the lead. In the second method, the flock will decide that something is wrong with their leader. They will then simply choose, as a group, to stop following the leader. Another pigeon will take over and lead the flock in the right direction. Does that remind you of the way we depose of misinformed leaders?
The battle royale of the Indian jumping ants
The Indian jumping ants use a much more hands-on method of choosing new leaders than in our democracy. However, there are certainly countries where replacing leaders go hand-in-hand with heated conflict. The lives of these ants involve nothing more than building and cleaning the nest to the satisfaction of the queen. The sole purpose of the queen ant is to maintain the population by a never-ending process of laying eggs.
All hell breaks loose
When the time comes for the queen to die, the mundane life of cleaning instantly changes into antennal fencing duels. According to an article in Discover Magazine, these heated fights continue for months before a new queen is chosen. The chosen one’s brains shrink, the abdomen becomes filled with ovaries to fulfill the new role as an egg-laying machine. Furthermore, the typical six-month lifespan of an Indian jumping ant changes to about five years as soon as she picks up the scepter of the late queen.
Did you find at least some of these methods of replacing leaders comparable to our democratic ways?