Understanding eusocial insects can be interesting in its own right, but there are loads of benefits to their existence and to humans knowing more about their ecological importance, or how they affect the world around us.
Animals like ants are referred to as ‘ecosystem engineers’ because they change their environment so much that it influences the ecology around the colony. They keep soil healthy and clean areas of smaller dead animals through foraging – which is important for other species who share the habitat with ants as it can reduce the spread of disease, for example.
Social insects can also cause huge amounts of damage, stripping trees of all their leaves and destroying crops. Termites (another social insect) can destroy entire buildings if they aren’t dealt with!
Termite hills can grow to enormous size! This giraffe give you an idea of the scale of some structures made by insects.
Bees are another good example of an important social insect species. Honey bees (Apis mellifera) are important pollinators of worldwide crops, and the more we know about how they live and interact with the world around us, the better we can understand potential threats to their safety and survival, as well as coming up with new ways to help them thrive in the wild and in commercial hives too.
These are solitary bees. Leaf-cutters (above) and mason bees (below) live alone in small nests they craft from various materials.
Ultimately, the more we know about how all these different species of social insects live and function, the better we are able to protect them and their habitats in a way that works well with the ways that humans use the natural world.
The world of social insects is a huge and fascinating one on a micro-scale. Now you know what it means to be ‘social’, what it takes to qualify as ‘eusocial’ and why these animals, and our understandings of them, are important.