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An idea I’m toying with for a sci-fi story is a species where the individual organisms are colonies of smaller eusocial organisms. The idea initially came from “hey if a bunch of single-celled organisms can stick together and that colony eventually evolve into larger multicellular organisms, can that jump be made again?” I’ve tried to find information about this - environmental factors that could contribute to this, what these greater organisms would be like, and, possibly, could they get to a point where they could create languages, cultures, societies, etc. All I’ve found is people bringing up the idea, but not expanding on it. Any ideas for how I could get this to work from a biological standpoint?

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    $\begingroup$ You may wish to look into emergence. Termite colonies build huge, complex structures that no individual termite could ever have designed (and the ventilation systems in termite mounds work so well human architects have stolen some ideas from termite colonies). Depending on how you define intelligence there’s already precedent in current emergent behaviours in eusocial colonies. Trouble is they work so well they have no need to evolve further! $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 23 '20 at 10:43
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See the Portuguese man o' war's structure

Being a colonial siphonophore, the Portuguese man o' war is composed of three types of medusoids (gonophores, siphosomal nectophores, and vestigial siphosomal nectophores) and four types of polypoids (free gastrozooids, gastrozooids with tentacles, gonozooids, and gonopalpons), grouped into cormidia beneath the pneumatophore, a sail-shaped structure filled with gas.

In layman terms

The Bluebottle or Pacific Man-of-War is not a single animal but a colony of four kinds of highly modified individuals (zooids). The zooids are dependent on one another for survival.

The float (pneumatophore) is a single individual and supports the rest of the colony. The tentacles (dactylozooids) are polyps concerned with the detection and capture of food and convey their prey to the digestive polyps (gastrozooids). Reproduction is carried out by the gonozooids, another type of polyp.

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  • $\begingroup$ I started off thinking ‘But they’re not eusocial!’, but the more I think about it the more I’m wondering if they are.. Question though: does the whole colony die when the float dies or can a new float take over? $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 23 '20 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ @JoeBloggs since floats alone won't survive, I doubt a float can take over from a dead one - "spare" floats are unlikely. Regarding "is Bluebottle eusocial?" - I reckon they are not. This being said... the question was " how I could get this to work from a biological standpoint", and the Bluebottle gets it in harder conditions: individuals with no chance of survival if not part of the colony. $\endgroup$ Feb 23 '20 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ Wait, if there's a single zooid type responsible for reproduction, does that mean all the zooids are just different castes of the same species, like an insect colony? $\endgroup$
    – Kyyshak
    Feb 23 '20 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyyshak: Yes. Each of the zooids is the same species , they just grow into different morphs. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 23 '20 at 14:45
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah. Doesn’t seem properly eusocial if the float can’t be replaced/usurped. Such tight integration certainly helps with the aim of developing intelligence though. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Feb 23 '20 at 14:47
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One characteristic you are definitely looking for is a hive mind. This would be required to develop intelligence for the large organism.

As an example, Formic fleets in Ender's Game were described to behave as a single organism. Depending on your scale, a fleet of spaceships might be called a single organism.

But rather that the central queen, being stupid as a unit but making the collective smarter the larger seems like a better fit for your description.

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