Cockroaches make group decisions

This is excellent: Apparently, cockroaches make group decisions. Some Belgian scientists took 50 of the humble Blattella germanica and put them in a tank that had three little cockroach huts, each of which could hold 40 cockroaches. The roaches divided themselves up perfectly into two groups of 25 each, and left the third hut vacant. When the researchers repeated the experiment so that it had three huts with a capacity of 50 each, all the cockroaches assembled in a single hut, and left the other two vacant.

How weird is that? Cockroaches not only have rules of socialization — they have quantum rules of socialization. And they appear to make their grouping decisions in a democratic fashion, with each roach counting as a single vote in the group’s decision-making process. As one of the scientists, Jose Halloy of Department of Social Ecology at the Free University of Brussels, told Discovery News:

“Cockroaches are gregarious insects (that) benefit from living in groups. It increases their reproductive opportunities, (promotes) sharing of resources like shelter or food, prevents desiccation by aggregating more in dry environments, etc. So what we show is that these behavioral models allow them to optimize group size.”

The models are so predictable that they could explain other insect and animal group behaviors, such as how some fish and bugs divide themselves up so neatly into subgroups, and how certain herding animals make simple decisions that do not involve leadership.

I amend that: Not only do cockroaches have quantum rules of social engagement, they have anarchically derived quantum rules of social engagement. They will truly inherit the earth.

(Thanks to Digg for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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