The Crabites are back, and chafing at their chains.

For context, Crabites are abyssal plain-dwelling large crabs, perhaps the size of a dog. They evolved from those rarest of creatures -- hive-dwelling eusocial crustaceans. Think of a modified honeybee model; one breeding female, close kin workers, but female births are chemically suppressed or the females driven away. (Closest Earth analogue is the sponge-dwelling snapping shrimp: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synalpheus_regalis) They band together to gather food and defend their food-cache.

So. This works great for primitive, bestial crabs, but once they evolve intelligence, issues arise. While being the chemical slave of the Queen is fine for beasts, our evolved Crabites are smart enough to resent the Queen's dominance. Yet they still love her.

The females love the Queen, and don't want to be driven away. At the same time, they want to leave, preferably taking some of the males with them to found a new hive.

The males resent being "just one in the pile" of males. They want to run off with a young queen to found a new hive, where they'll be a big fish in a little pond. And yet ... leave the Queen? And take the risk of starting a new hive without the mighty food caches, and herds of sea cucumbers owned by their existing home?

So ... our Crabites live their lives torn by conflicting urges of loyalty and betrayal. Their hormonal love of their Queens always at war with their selfish ambitions.

Here's the question: Is there room for intelligence here? Can hive creatures develop non-hive minds and live in chemical slavery without going mad from contrary impulses? Or must I devolve my beloved Crabites into old-fashioned, boring telepathic hive-minds?

  • $\begingroup$ I think it can be a very interesting world. However, I believe you are over-anthropomorphise your Crabits. For example, I am not sure that intelligent beings evolved from hive-forming insects will have a concept of an individual at all. $\endgroup$
    – Olga
    Nov 12, 2017 at 1:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Olga that's the thought experiment I'm doing. I want to create hive-living eusocial creatures which have individual identities & minds and see if they can thrive, or if there's too much conflict with their instincts and hormonal controls from the Queen. In the end I might have to make some compromises... $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 12, 2017 at 2:03
  • $\begingroup$ This really doesn't make any sense to me. Your crabites wouldn't have human values or perspectives. They wouldn't think of things in terms of "love" and "manipulation". Working for the hive would be normal and lead to mental well-being. Even if they came to understand the mechanism by which social-cohesion is maintained (the queen producing chemicals) this wouldn't change their view of the world. Male crabite wouldn't resent anyone or run away with a young queen. Not because they are slaves, or ignorant or abused, but simply because they aren't human. For them "liberty" would seem sickly. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Nov 12, 2017 at 14:18
  • $\begingroup$ @akaioi. There are plenty contrary impulses and outright conflict in real bee colonies. A good term to google for more is 'eusocial reproductive conflict'. Check out these papers: link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s002650050286 sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022519383711859 bumble bees ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1690486/pdf/10693816.pdf and a good one on colony size onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1420-9101.1999.00028.x/… $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Nov 12, 2017 at 19:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @akaioi Why would they think it was unfair? You're making the assumption that sentience necessarily means an inherent sense of human-proposed "fairness". This is unfounded and terribly anthropomorphic. In reality we know that our sense of what is fair is due to natural selection. It is evolutionarily advantageous for human beings to fight for their rights. Such would not be the same for crabites. Indeed, consider ants, the best method ants have to spread their genes is to tend to the colony/queen (the latter being related to the former), not to decide to forge their own colony somewhere else. $\endgroup$
    – AngelPray
    Nov 12, 2017 at 20:32

5 Answers 5


Being happy is slavery?

Humans have family structures enforced with hormonal systems. We are still usually considered intelligent although how much that is true and how much sheer hubris is debatable. People will also generally not resent having a happy family life despite that severely limiting their freedom.

I think you should use the ways humans deal with the conflict between family and individual ambition as a model for your Crabites dealing with Hive-Individual conflict. If nothing else using a massive free supply of base material saves lots of work.

Also for the Crabites the hive and the queen would be normal. They'd have people who withdraw from them to think clearer just like we have. But most would pursue their happiness within the norms of the hive just as we do with our social structures. Humans or Crabites do not simply have the time to challenge every limitation on their lives. Usually people will focus on the ones making them unhappy and just adapt to the ones making them happy.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice analysis! The point I want to emphasize is that the hormonal control the Queen has is much stronger than in humans, and much more overt than our human bonding mechanisms. I'm suggesting that this will cause resentment and angst (Do I only love her because of The Scent?). Conversely, sentient analysis of their normal outbreeding pattern -- young females stealing males away -- may also cause problems ... can I betray my Queen just because this young chippie smells good? $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 11, 2017 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was the most intelligent species occupying the planet, instead of the third most intelligent. The second most intelligent creatures, were of course dolphins who, curiously enough, had long known of the impending destruction of the planet Earth..... $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Nov 12, 2017 at 4:57

Reading about the Crabites, there are some frame-shift answers which come to mind:

  • Intelligence and the desire for independence do not always go hand in hand. In fact, a creature's intelligence may help them recognize that they have better chances of survival as a member of a society, even if it is in a subservient roll.
  • These are crustaceans and their desires and goals may not mirror our own. Individual ambition? How abominable! The poor queen would be left all alone if we go! Self-fulfillment may be found in serving the Queen.

Even if the Crabites have the desires to run off and start a new hive, there are some approaches:

  • The queen can only control so many through hormones. Young queens could be used to help control larger populations, and oversee specific areas of the hive. Queen-born males and females could assume the role of the core government, who then go on to govern specific areas or aspects of non-queen born life. Yes, this is fodder for a brutal caste system, but it can work.
  • Male and Female Crabites must simply be conflicted, and will always be evaluating their options. Stay at home where things are secure, or move out to seek fame and fortune? That previous sentence could easily apply to many humans! Do I stay in this country, at this job, or try for something else?
  • $\begingroup$ "Intelligence and the desire for independence do not always go hand in hand" This is the concept I'm playing with. I'm positing that as the Crabites develop the ability to ask "Why", they'll come to "Why must I obey the Queen? Why do I feel so ... powerful ... when I'm away from the hive on missions? And yet so lonely..." I can imagine a delegation of males approaching the Queen (on their many knees) to reverently offer her their version of the Magna Carta... $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 11, 2017 at 21:12

In many eusocial insects, the females are all sisters or daughters of the Queen, so their social role is genetically enforced as family members. The desire to branch off is countered by a hugely amplified version of "well who's going look after mom?", followed by an equally strong urge to look after the younger sisters in the hive. For intelligent hive creatures this could also be amplified by versions of matrilineal inheritance laws; splitting off from the "family" means you lose access to the family resources, and considering the environment is rather resource limited, this would be an enormous incentive to stay (or disincentive to leave).

OTOH, this would lead to genetic stagnation or even inbreeding if the males were all from the same family, so perhaps some sort of arrangement similar to lion prides or baboon troops, where males are generally tolerated until they reach sexual maturity, whereupon they are either driven off or get an urge to wander to new territories, where they can "prove their worth" and start new prides or troops (or kill the old male and take over an existing one). Since the Crabites are more similar to eusocial insects than lions, wandering males may battle it out in front of prospective queens, and the queen selects the winner as a mate (in a civilized society, this need not be single combat, it might be somewhat amusing if the competing males need to defeat each other in a chess tournament, lighting round of Jeopardy, cotillion or build elaborate puzzles to amuse and delight the queen...).

To make the genetic mix and match more sustained, males could die after mating, so the queen will have a number of partners through her life, while the hive is filled with half sisters from each generation of males. This also means that if resource pressures or other cues trigger a need to split the hive, the newly "promoted" queens are not clones of the old one. The hive workers who follow the new queen will be her sisters, so the remainder of the hive will continue to function with the rest of the workers who are not genetically bound to the departing queen. (What sort of environmental cues trigger the "promotion" of a new queen and how it is done is up to you. Bees use royal jelly, but other things are possible).

Please provide a link to wherever you are publishing the stories of the Crabites, as this looks to be an interesting and amusing world.


Why don't you kill your neighbor and steal his wife if she's hot?

I guess the answer is that we evolved a set of rules and behaviors (civilization, religion, morals, common decency, etc) that are advantageous to the species. There's no reason your Crabites wouldn't do that. After all, if they behaved in a way that would jeopardize their survival, evolution would sweep them under the rug. We are hive creatures in a way. Back in the day, the hive would be a village, then a city-state, or a nation.

Now, consider birds of paradise. They build elaborate constructions and decorate them carefully, in order to impress the females. Just like a sports car. They do this because the females like it, so they selected for the birds who were best at it. Additionally, being able to dedicate time and energy to gathering the resources to build these nests is a demonstration that the bird has good health and fitness. The bird is so baddass that surviving is easy, it even has enough time to have a hobby in interior decoration. Sexy!

So, your Crabites could have the males in a competition to see who gathers most resources, to impresses the females enough that one will choose him to create a new hive. This does not prevent teamwork: if a female needs several males to start a hive, then groups of buddies would emerge. Which one of them will provide the DNA remains to be seen, though... although it could be all of them. For example, ant queens will mate with several males and store their sperm. So among the ants in an anthill, some may have different fathers.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good points. The angle I'm taking is along the lines of "What do you do when you realize you love your wife because she uses love potions on you?" Can you imagine the chaos when a male Crabite alchemist synthesizes the "devotion hormone" then accidentally spills a batch into his carapace... ;D $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 11, 2017 at 21:15
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds a bit like the movie "the perfume", did you watch it? imdb.com/title/tt0396171 $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Nov 11, 2017 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ I hadn't known that movie, but I looked it up, and ... creepy. And yes, that's kind of what I was thinking, just on a mass scale as the truth gets out. $\endgroup$
    – akaioi
    Nov 12, 2017 at 1:25
  • $\begingroup$ The movie is pretty good, I recommend it (although it is disturbing). I like the concept of a love potion gone wrong... College humor version would be all the males attempting to mate with the unlucky chemist... Since your hormone makes the male pass as a Queen, I looked up if ants accept 2 queens in the same hive, apparently some do but in other species the queens will fight to the death. quora.com/Can-an-ant-colony-have-multiple-queens $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Nov 12, 2017 at 9:30

Your crabites are intelligent, right? Well, they could realize that the best way to ensure their survival is to be part of the society, even if it's a low role. If the crabites want to leave, well, they can't. They're not queens, after all. Only the babies fed royal jelly can leave and make a hive, or die. Of course, the babies fed royal jelly would rather go than die. They're smart enough to know this. Also, if the crabites are happy in the hive, they stay there. If the crabites are not, they go.


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