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Biology: Generosity Among the Animal Kingdom

Updated on May 6, 2011

Generosity in the Animal Kingdom

Most of us have been raised to believe that we have all evolved to be selfish. Many societies define "selfishness" as evil whereas in face, evil  and good are merely the result of our upbringing. There is in fact no single "good" or "evil". This misconception can be attributed largely to religious groups.

The animal kingdom provides many examples of species evolved to be generous. While it is true that selfishness does often give an individual a better chance of survival such as hogging the food, mate, and habitat, but equally so can generosity help ensure the survival of the group. These species thus have a complex social structure.

Natural selection is powered by the survival of an organism that is easier than the rest and is able to reproduce and pass on the genes. Altruistic behavior evolved to ensure the survival of the group rather than the individual.

Honey Bee Social Organization

Includes a Queen, workers, drones. The job of the queen is to lay eggs, the workers to search and collect nectar/pollen, make wax and honey, and feed/protect the young, and the drones mate with the queen. Social organization is also influenced by diet. The type of food determines whether a larvae will mature into a worker or queen. All males however become drones. Queens secrete a pheromone which inhibits ovarian development of the other females


- Lays eggs

- Produces pheromones which blocks ovarian growth in other workers-


- Feed larvae

- Produce honey/wax

- Search for nectar/pollen

- Protect hive


- Mate with queen

The most well adapted survive and the rest die. The workers have no influence on the  gene pool because only the queen produces offspring. At the colony level, the genes are not chosen to promote the individual, but the entire colony such as the genes which control the behavior of the workers, genes for finding nectar, genes for taking care of the young. It appears the workers don’t influence the colon, but the workers have the same genes as the queen, so they’re actually ensuring the survival of their own genes.

Ground Squirrel

They live in a habitat with coyotes and hawks. When a predator approaches, they make a loud squeal which alerts the group of the danger. The squirrel which did the alerting has a lower survival chance because they are using themselves to divert attention away from the predators and unsurprisingly, if their relatives are all dead, they realize that risking themselves as bait would not benefit the group so they remain quiet. 

Naked Mole Rats

Mole rats live in groups of about 100. The workers dig burrows and chambers as well as collect food. The sexual behavior of males males are blocked unless she is ovulating. The best food is given to the queen and if there is a predator like a snake, the workers sacrifice themselves so the young can live. This and the honey bees are examples of kin selection where individuals would rather the group survive.

Vampire Bats

Vampire bats regurgitate consumed blood/insects for the members of their family who did not find sufficient food.


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    • profile image

      Zanha 3 years ago

      Well given so many young people who have eiehtr attempted or were successful suicide isn't a new problem. I just want teens of today to realize teens of yesterday, or yester- decade+ endured the same thing. Fortunately my friend lived to regret her attempt find true love and have a beautiful daughter, but so many others as you know don't. Just doing my little part to get the word out. Thanks Katie, enjoy your Sunday.

    • NathanielZhu profile image

      Nathaniel Zhu 6 years ago from Virginia Beach

      Thanks Sembj.

      Yes, fascinating world isn't it?

      And to think, I almost gave it up in 8th grade.

      The more we dig in, the more mysterious like you said our world appears to be. Before, we only marveled at the life on Earth and called time travel and teleportation and mere fantasy. Now, both are reality. I wonder what future discoveries life has in store for us.

      Perhaps we may as Michio Kaku believes, achieve a level 1 civilization by the end of this century.

    • Sembj profile image

      Sembj 6 years ago

      I enjoyed your hub. It is interesting that some argue that humans are incapable of altruism, and I examine animal, (including the human species), to argue the opposite view in a hub on Fukushima's workers - they continue to volunteer to work in place of younger employees.

      As an aside, I found it interesting to read of how your discovery and love of science converted the way you view the world. Strangely, it seems to me that some of the more recent scientific explanations of what we somewhat laughingly refer to as reality seem as mysterious as any religion and just as exciting.