My species is a eusocial race of insectoid aliens. The basic gist is only the Queens are sapient, and the soldiers and workers are non-sapient. To me it felt like there wouldn't be much of a society and the Queens would lead very lonely lives.

So I got this idea that once the workers are done gathering food, building cities, etc. They pupate, and come out fully sapient with innate knowledge on basic life skills (Think pokemon evolution). They still retain their ability to repair broken things from their worker days, but have no memory of actually being a worker.

My question is would becoming sapient like flipping a switch be biologically possible?

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    $\begingroup$ Does it matter? It seems like you've decided that it's possible in your world. Is there any real issue with just leaving it at that? Good works of fiction have us accepting biologically impossible things all the time (look at Pokemon for an excellent example). $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 17:24
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    $\begingroup$ It might be biologically possible. It might not be. We don't know enough to tell which is which. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking. $\endgroup$
    – Community Bot
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 18:30
  • $\begingroup$ Your question: "would becoming sapient like flipping a switch be biologically possible" I'd suggest to leave out the flipping, else a frame challenge will be the most obvious answer. Sapience won't happen suddenly. A creature becoming sapient will have to gather and grasp information, and allowed some time to integrate aquired knowledge, before it can be called "sapient" in any way. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    Commented Mar 15, 2022 at 23:47
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe there are many queens but only one is the empress, the empress don't lay eggs anymore but provide guidance to the new queens. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 7:03

3 Answers 3


Sapience itself is an ill-defined term, and depending on how you look at it we have only a single species that meets the criteria. You can hardly say what the rules should be when you have a sample size of one, after all.

So let's look at some assumptions:

  • Sapience is immediate or occurs quickly once an individual is mobile and/or visible to others (toddlers)
  • Sapience is universal within a species... that is, either every individual specimen of a species is sapient, or every specimen is not sapient
  • Sapience is an innate quality of the mind (within humans and Earth-life, a property of the neurology of that organism)

None of these assumptions can be verified, and none of them are supportable based on any principles of intelligence or consciousness that we're aware of.

Some (alien) species might have only random specimens become sapient. It might not occur at a uniform age/range... some might be sapient from day one, others only centuries later. There might or might not be a distinct brain within the specimen that causes this quality to manifest.

When you are dealing with alien biologies (not biologies that exist on Earth, are derived from Earth, or are purposely similar to Earth), pretty much anything goes that isn't disallowed by basic chemistry. Go for it. Biology's just not your obstacle here. Nor are there any within the principles of sapience itself.

I will add one additional note here: would a lone sapient mind such as a eusocial queen, even know what loneliness is? Loneliness is a state of mind we experience because we are social creatures that have adapted over millions of years to desire and be accustomed to other minds being nearby. An organism that has not evolved from such pressures might not ever experience a state of mind similar to that. Whether this means it would be innately hostile to foreign minds, or just apathetic, I leave as an exercise for you OP.


Skillsets change with life stage.

Consider the tadpole and the frog. Different environments, different diets, different modes of locomotion, same creature. Some fish start as a male and then get to be female after proving themselves fit (e.g. not dead). A cicada larva and cicada adult as about as different as two beings can be, but they are the same organism.

There are many creatures which change radically over development. Having sentience be an emergent property after metamorphosis makes sense. Also maybe the high-mortality rate life as a worker juvenile will select for individuals with the traits you want.

You setup offers the possibility of palace intrigue. If sentience is gained at metamorphosis, there will be many sentient females but only one queen. Who will be the next queen? Do the males have a role to play in this or are they born only to mate and die?

-- I like the idea of the drone that is different. It does not become intelligent. It was born that way; a mutant. It is the one that is lonely, in the company of its mindless sisters. It keeps a low profile. But maybe it is capable of playing a role in its society that no-one else can play.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the advice! And to answer your question about males, I didn't add everything about my species because it wasn't important to the question. There are actually queens and kings that rule together, and they (the kings) are sapient as well. Kings and Queens are born from an Empress, an hermaphroditic type that self-reproduces. Don't ask where Empresses come from, cause I don't know yet🤣. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 0:12

Caterpillars likely don't know how to fly, but once they turn into butterflies they do somehow.

I would think this to be along the lines of what you are asking. Seems reasonable to me.

While pupating, they develop new mental switches that are then turned on as they mature.

In bees, the queen is grown in "royal jelly" which changes them as they grow, perhaps a special resource is given to subjects to spark their mental evolution.


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