This question is based off of an earlier question of mine that dealt with what would happen if humans and our Neanderthal cousins were dropped off on a world with large, technologically developed ants (compared to them from the standpoint that they have a queen, live underground, and communicate using chemical signals).

My "ants" walk on two hind legs (using them to do most of the effort of moving), but have 4 total that they can use. Their four frontal legs have opposable thumbs. They are covered in an armored exo-skeleton, they have to somehow develop advanced technology.

Following these rules, I can see no feasible way for them to advance technologically since the individual organisms are useless and lack any personality. My questions are these:

  • How could such a sapient colonial organism evolve

  • How would they make it to the top of the food chain

  • Is such a creature realistically possible


I was watching Enders Game and the aliens are revealed to highly resemble ants in the final scenes of the movie. I began wondering how the creatures evolved and how I could create such a creature in a short story I am writing for my school's PDF newspaper.

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    $\begingroup$ For eusocial behaviour in mammals, you might look at Naked Mole-rats: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naked_mole-rat $\endgroup$ – glenatron Feb 23 '15 at 14:52
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    $\begingroup$ Take a look at Blindsight by Peter Watts. He approaches how a species can be very technologically advanced, but not contain sentient individuals. A very good read. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Feb 23 '15 at 21:18
  • $\begingroup$ You might want to have a look at [Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game books][en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… as well, there's some bits and pieces about the formics/buggers. Especially in his newer Formic Wars series :) $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T Mar 31 '16 at 10:09
  • $\begingroup$ Read the Commonwealth Saga by Peter F Hamilton. There is a hive-based alien race very well described in the series where the 'queens' are the only sapient ones and the drones are just extensions of their will. $\endgroup$ – evilscary Mar 31 '16 at 10:38
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    $\begingroup$ @evilscary MorningLightMountain? Yeah that was one of my first thoughts as well although there the colony members were very closely linked to each other. There's a few other sci fi books that have also discussed the idea but I can't think of any specific examples to recommend just now. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 31 '16 at 12:53

You can look at how ants solve problems today: they are all doing semi-random things, until one of them does something usefull (eg. find food). Then every ant will tend to reproduce what the first one did, but with slight variations. If one finds a shorter path, then all the other ants will do the same.

So in the end you have two things worth noting: - Ants are bad at finding new stuff. It is just pure randomness. What save them is that there are so many of them that, given enough time, one of them will do something interesting. - Ants are very good at copying what others do, and optimizing it.

So maybe such an organism would have trouble evolving on its own: there are breakthrough in technological advancement that are not very compatible with the randomness af ants behavior.

However there are two things that could help such a species to evolve:

  • if they have a considerable amount of time, then everything can be achieved through random actions,
  • if they have a competitor, then they can copy what their competitor does. That means that they will always be a step behind in terms of technology, but the combination of their numbers and of their ability to improve and optimize things should keep them in the race.
  • $\begingroup$ Naked mole rats are no worse that other small mammals at finding stuff, so being bad at finding stuff isn't really an essential feature of organisms that live in colonies like this, it's just true of ants because their brains are so tiny. $\endgroup$ – Hypnosifl Mar 31 '16 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ A lot of humans tend to do semi-random things and then people just copy that. At least in software development, this seems to be an overwhelming trend. $\endgroup$ – Clearer Dec 19 '17 at 7:45

It would make sense as in Ender's Game and many other sci-fi stories with hive type insectoid beings. The Queens are highly intelligent and do most/all of the thinking for all the drones and workers (the level of independent thought varies dramatically). How independent the workers etc are depends of course on the communication abilities. Pheromones and other instructions leave more independence, and telepathy leaves less, and the instant communication to any drone anywhere in the galaxy leaves the least (Ender's Game).

In Ender's Game the drones and workers are mostly extensions of the queens will, like appendages. Same as McCaffrey's Tower and Hive series. Others are more a strong feudal relationship.

As it is in hive colonies, the Queen is the sole member that is important, without her, the colony will die. So it is reasonable that she would be the one to push the limits of intelligence and be a guiding principle of the advancement of the species. However, their need to communicate anything other than orders down to minions would be limited, other than maybe trying to 'parley' with other queens in disputes.

  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of a super colony being possible....kind of like how it is done in Enders Game and in the real world with some ants. Does this seem too outlandish for larger but similar organisms? $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Feb 23 '15 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DustinJackson No I don't think so. It is pushing things for reality, but that is what story telling is for. Also it is a fairly common type in sci-fi and fantasy so many would be used to the idea. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Feb 23 '15 at 14:56

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