By Daniel Tencer | October 17, 2009 - 2:38 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there may be selfish reasons for altruism — in the case of termites, anyway. Wired explains:

When a warring termite colony loses its king and queen — the only members capable of reproduction — then its survivors merge with the victor colony, treating genetically unrelated former enemies as if they were siblings.

In the short term, this seems to make no sense. But in the long term, because replacement royalty is recruited from among worker bugs, it’s the losers’ best shot at eventually reproducing.

“You could go off and start your own colony, but that’s risky,” said Philip Johns, a Bard College evolutionary biologist. “This way, there’s a good chance a king or queen may die, and then you have a chance at taking over.”

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