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Posts Tagged ‘eusociality’

Guest Blogger: Charles Darwin

darwin1In honor of the old man’s 200th, Myrmecos Blog is proud to feature Charles Darwin writing prophetically about the problems posed by social insects for his theory of natural selection.   The passage below is from the first edition of On the Origin of Species, and in it Darwin anticipates the same answers- kin and group selection- that later generations of biologists converged on to solve the riddle. Not bad for a barnacle taxonomist…

No doubt many instincts of very difficult explanation could be opposed to the theory of natural selection,—cases, in which we cannot see how an instinct could possibly have originated; cases, in which no intermediate gradations are known to exist; cases of instinct of apparently such trifling importance, that they could hardly have been acted on by natural selection; cases of instincts almost identically the same in animals so remote in the scale of nature, that we cannot account for their similarity by inheritance from a common parent, and must therefore believe that they have been acquired by independent acts of natural selection. I will not here enter on these several cases, but will confine myself to one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me insuperable, and actually fatal to my whole theory. I allude to the neuters or sterile females in insect-communities: for these neuters often differ widely in instinct and in structure from both the males and fertile females, and yet, from being sterile, they cannot propagate their kind.

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