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Insect colonies and Oogie-Boogie

Have you ever seen in a cartoon or animated movie a scene where a bunch of insects join together to form one big nasty monster? They probably even formed into a bipedal human shape rather than just a super-big six-legged version of themselves. I guess one of my favorite examples of this is Oogie-Boogie from Tim Burton’s classic Nightmare Before Christmas.

In that movie Oogie-Boogie consisted of an old star-shaped burlap bag with 5 tapering limb-like projections coming off; 2 legs, 2 arms, and 1 head. Now that I think of it, he looked a lot like an evil version of SpongeBob’s sea-star buddy, Patrick.

Inside the burlap was a huge assortment of creepy-crawlies, bugs, insects, spiders, snakes….you name it. Each bug then was a part of a bigger organism and assigned to various tasks. There were leg bugs, arms bugs, eye bugs, even a tongue snake.

Although Oogie-Boogie really only exists as a stop-motion puppet (or perhaps in the nightmares of a lot of kids), scientists are finding out that colonies of insects really do behave as one big organism instead of just individual bugs.

No, they’re not joining together and stomping around but in terms of their physiology and life cycle they do act like one super-organism.

James Gillooly, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the University of Florida, said:

“In life, two of the major evolutionary innovations have been how cells came together to function as a single organism, and how individuals joined together to function as a society, Relatively speaking, we understand a considerable amount about how the size of multicellular organisms affects the life cycle of individuals based on metabolic theory, but now we are showing this same theoretical framework helps predict the life cycle of whole societies of organism”

If you’d like to read more about this fascinating study, go here.

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