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Cockroaches Make Group Decisions? 212

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the they-check-in-but-they-don't-check-out dept.
The Discovery Channel is reporting a recent study indicates that cockroaches govern themselves using simple group consultations before anything that affects the entire group. From the article: " The research determined that cockroach decision-making follows a predictable pattern that could explain group dynamics of other insects and animals, such as ants, spiders, fish and even cows. Cockroaches, Blattella Germanica, are silent creatures, save perhaps for the sound of them scurrying over a counter top. They therefore must communicate without vocalizing.
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Cockroaches Make Group Decisions?

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  • Kafkaesque (Score:5, Funny)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:47PM (#15060370) Journal
    Not only can they communicate, but they also have a staunch work ethic [wikipedia.org]. They've been known to make every attempt to get to work on time regardless of whatever transformations may happen to them over night.

    Poor Gregor, no matter how hard he released pheromones, his parents just wouldn't listen ... er ... smell to him.
    • by Cornflake917 (515940) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:58PM (#15060484) Homepage
      Cockroaches are able to make group decisions without a leader. With a staunch work ethic, they would be a perfect candidate for communism. The huge population of Ants have been communist for quite some time. We can't let this spread into a domino effect! We must destory all cockroaches before communism spreads to all the other insects!

  • by nemik (909434) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:49PM (#15060403) Homepage
    That explains all those committees and cabinets then that politicians constantly set up. Only cockroaches are obviously much more effective in their efforts.
  • X-Files (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dante Shamest (813622) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:51PM (#15060418)
    Cockroaches are interesting enough to have been the focus of one X-Files episode, War of the Coprophages [wikipedia.org]

    In the X-Files episode "War of The Coprophages" cockroaches are seen to group together to murder people. The character Dr. Berenbaum (based on the University of Illinois entomologist) suggests that it is actually swarms of flying cockroaches that are responsible for most UFO sightings (they generate an electro-static field which can be illuminated dependent on atmospheric conditions). In one of the scenes, a cockroach that escaped can be seen crawling over the camera, making it appear that the viewer's television has become infested. Though the shot was not planned, the producers decided to leave it in the episode.

    • In one of the scenes, a cockroach that escaped can be seen crawling over the camera, making it appear that the viewer's television has become infested. Though the shot was not planned, the producers decided to leave it in the episode.

      Ahh man, I loved that episode. But I'm pretty sure the cockroach crawling over the camera wasn't an accident. First of all, it wasn't crawling over the camera. If I remember correctly, the back of the cockroach was facing towards the viewer. They made it look like a cockro
  • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:51PM (#15060419) Homepage Journal
    Cockroaches have regular staff meetings in order to create synergy, redefine their core competencies, implement new strategems, and satisfy shareholders.

    Termites can do it too, but they hold theirs inside a plank of wood, hence the term "board meeting."
    • good one :) ... board meeting... lol... im still laughing, man must i be tired!
    • "Cockroaches have regular staff meetings in order to create synergy, redefine their core competencies, implement new strategems, and satisfy shareholders."

      In my experience those aren't sure signifiers of intelligence at work.

    • Which is why I tagged this article "microsoft".
    • Lol. Termites evolved from roaches by the way.
    • by aldheorte (162967) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @04:35PM (#15061262)
      Pointy Hair Roach: "So, let's see, I wonder if the technical department can create a turn-key solution for feeding tonight?"
      Long Hair Roach: "Sure, what do you have in mind?"
      Pointy Hair Roach: "Well, let's see, we need a diversion, why don't we have a volunteer climb up into the light fixture and drop onto her sholder, which will cause her to scream, flail about, and run out of the room."
      Long Hair Roach: "Um, how do we get into to the light fixture?"
      Pointy Hair Roach: "I dunno, go license some tech from the ants for hanging from ceilings and stuff."
      Long Hair Roach: "Uh... ok."
      Pointy Hair Roach: "Right, so while the volunteer is running back and forth avoiding the fly swatter, huge feet, and general mayhem, we'll monitor progress from the counter top."
      Long Hair Roach: "So, who's going to volunteer?"

      Pointy Hair Roach: "Well, since you brought it up..."
      Long Hair Roach: "So, you want me to outsource the tech to the ants, then use it untested to scale a vertical wall, hang from a ceiling, get into a light fixture without being electrocuted - you didn't think of that, did you? And then dropping onto a human and avoiding getting crushed. Wait, what are you going to do to contribute?"
      Pointy Hair Roach: "We'll be eating the toast."
    • So, middle management will survive the nuclear holocaust as well?!

      Dammit, what's the point, then?
  • Roach Intelligence (Score:5, Interesting)

    by linguizic (806996) * on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:51PM (#15060420)
    This is new to our understanding of roaches, but the article doesn't realy go in to what's amazing about this. Ants are pretty well understood, an ant colony is an aggregated indirect fitness machine. Since all the female offspring of the queen are related to eachother by 3/4 (why? because they're way cool!!), and the worker caste is sterile, they promote the fitness of their sisters who will become queens themselves and leave the colony, reproduce, and therefore replicate their sister's genes. This genetic system is called haplodiploidy [wikipedia.org]. Roaches on the other hand, are diploids like you and I. The genetic incentive for the cooperation that we see in ants is just not there in roaches. Instead, what the roaches are doing is more similar to reciprocal altruism.

    from the article: After much "consultation," through antenna probing, touching and more, the cockroaches divided themselves up perfectly within the shelters. For example, if 50 insects were placed in a dish with three shelters, each with a capacity for 40 bugs, 25 roaches huddled together in the first shelter, 25 gathered in the second shelter, and the third was left vacant.

    A completely selfish roach would say "screw you, I'm not going to that other house, I want to stay where everybody else is!". But because other roaches are willing to go to the second house so is any extraordinarily selfish roach. So this is an evolutionarily stable strategy. This challenges how smart we think roaches are. They are truly making decisions. It's not that some of the roaches are genetically predisposed to being the roach who decides not to stay with everyone else while other's lack that genetic predisposition. If this were the case the numbers of each group when they divide would never be even.
    • by gnovos (447128) <{ten.deppihc} {ta} {sovong}> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:30PM (#15060760) Homepage Journal
      Wouldn't this just be a simple case of emergent behavior? Like, the roach has a simple rule that they follow over and over again, and when the house gets too big that rule proells them to the next house. Like somethign along the lines of:

      1) Stay in shelter
      2) Count other roaches nearby
      3) If otherCount > X move to the next house.

      I have heard ants follow this kind of "reasoning" and thus perform very complext tasks.

      1) Gather Food
      2) If gatherFoodSmell becomes too strong then hunt for food
      3) If fellowHunters smell becomes too strong then make tunnel repairs

      etc...

      • by harrkev (623093) <<kfmsd> <at> <harrelsonfamily.org>> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:37PM (#15060825) Homepage
        2) Count other roaches nearby
        Therein lies the problem -- roaches can't "count" in any normal sense of the word. The fact that (according to TFA) roaches split themselves into two populations of 25 is amazing.

        Of course the article was rather lacking in details. Was it always 25, or was it sometimes a 27/23 split?
      • by linguizic (806996) *
        It couldn't be like you describe. All the roaches gather outside the houses and feel around at eachother for a while and then divide and go into the 2 different houses. This requires communication and desicion making. It would be a completely different story if they all tried to cram into one house, and then the ones who couln't fit tried to cram into the other. But that's not what seems to be happening here.

        One of the things that this suggests to me is that roaches have good spatial reasoning. If t
    • by Jtheletter (686279) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @04:02PM (#15061021)
      For example, if 50 insects were placed in a dish with three shelters, each with a capacity for 40 bugs, 25 roaches huddled together in the first shelter, 25 gathered in the second shelter, and the third was left vacant.

      OK, so now let's do this experiment again, this time with 51 roaches. Will there be 17 in each of the three shelters? What if we reduce shelter capacity to 30 roaches? or 25?

      As another poster has suggested this may have less to do with intelligent decisions and more to do with scripted behavior: if roach population here is above X, branch to new location. The threshold X may be set by a number of factors such as total perceived population, observed population in the current shelter, etc. Tweaking shelter size, number of roaches, and other conditions in a controlled way may reveal the decision motivators and help to discern if there is some consensus at work or if it's just a survival script. Just as roaches avoid light because they have evolved to recognize it leaves them detectable and therefore vulnerable, they may scorn large groupings to avoid being wiped out by the loss of a single population center.

      • Except that they didn't divide themselves up that way. When they were given shelters that wouldn't fit all of them (which they figured out before they crammed in) they split up into multiple groups, but kept the group size as large as possible and even. When they were given multiple shelters that could fit them all they all stayed together.

        I'm sure that it all boils down to a biological analog of a script, but couldn't the same be said of a lot of human behavior?
      • OK, so now let's do this experiment again, this time with 51 roaches.

        They probably stand around, looking at each other. At one point a few of them turn to one of the other roaches and say, "Sorry, Lenny, you drew the short straw." Then they bite off his head so they can divvy themselves up evenly.
    • Not only can they survive a nuclear war, but they can count and divide?!

      Well, seems they can only divide by 2 now, wonder how long till they learn to divide by 3!
  • by thewiz (24994) * on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:52PM (#15060424)
    It's interesting to see other animals, and now possibly insects, demonstrate intelligent behaviour and communicate with each other. Wether they use body language, chemical emmissions, or sign language with their antenna, I'd say it looks like we keep finding intelligent life on our own planet.

    But, if I find one in my house I'm still going to squish it.
  • by truthsearch (249536) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:53PM (#15060438) Homepage Journal
    cockroach decision-making follows a predictable pattern

    So some of my past managers really were dumber than cockroaches? I knew it! Thank you /. for validating what I knew all along.
  • by dada21 (163177) * <adam.dada@gmail.com> on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:54PM (#15060451) Homepage Journal
    Poor Scarface. He didn't realize those cockroaches he was going to bury were colluding together against him.

    Words of wisdom, I guess.
  • Why I feel like a cockroach after a meeting. :P
  • No Politics topic?
  • They therefore must communicate without vocalizing.

    Is this still a matter of debate?

    When I was studying Entomology 15 years ago (egad!), the the leading theory for insect communication is that that they communicated primarily using scents and vibrations on the ground in the air. They can hear, but not necessarily vocalize.

    This has been studied extensively in ants & termites -- As far as I know, this is still the leading theory.

    It's hard to prove, because "smells" are hard to detect.
  • Is that why I keep finding my Raid cans with the nozzle broken off? Damn bugs!
  • by 88NoSoup4U88 (721233) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:56PM (#15060473) Homepage
    As the article is scarce on pics, here [google.com] some more pictures of the cockroaches meeting up before making decisions. :)
  • by Expert Determination (950523) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @02:58PM (#15060490)
    Researchers in Kentucky performed the following experiment: they placed a carboard divide with a small hole in it across the middle of a shoe box so as to split it into to halves of equal size. Amazingly it was found that the same amount of air ended up in both halves. "I reckon this proves that atoms have notions of fairness, democracy and property," said the leading researcher of the group, "they were able to divide themselves up equally between the partitions.". They found that similar results were obtained with a variety of different partitioning scheme - whatever scheme was chosen the atoms always divided themselves up fairly so that each atom had the same amount of space.

    Even more significantly the researchers showed that this equilibrium was dynamic. If a bunch of atoms drifted from one partition to another then another bunch would go back the other way. It's not always the same atoms that stay in any particular partition. This demonstrates that the atoms are actually smart enough to be able to count how many atoms are leaving and entering a partition at any time.

    "This could revolutionize thinking about atoms," claimed the researcher.

    • if it wasn't, I would not be out of gas in my car after driving PAST a gas station, for if atoms truly want to be free, I'd have suddenly gained a half tank of fuel.

      unless, of course, the atoms are taking orders from the cockroaches. we don't get along.
    • by amliebsch (724858) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:05PM (#15060542) Journal
      Anthropomorphizations do not like to be mocked.
    • Exaclty. It is hardly news that social insects communicate with each other and that they do so by interacting with each other. And just because all participate in the decision doesn't mean that it is democratic. I suspect that the actual scientific paper behind TFA has more to say. That is, I suspect that there is a proposed algorithm that individual roaches follow that lead to the group behavior. But from TFA there is no news here.

      What is often said about computers applies to cockroaches as well:

      • Researchers in Kentucky performed the following experiment: they dissolved soap and oil in water creating an emulsion. Amazingly it was found that the similar amounts of soap molecules ended up around groups of oil molecules. "I reckon this proves that soap molecules have notions of fairness, democracy and property," said the leading researcher of the group, "they were able to divide themselves up equally around the groups of oil molecules.". They found that similar results were obtained with a variety of r
    • by iamlucky13 (795185) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:18PM (#15060657)
      What happens when you divide your shoebox into three sections? Do the molecules in the air divide themselves evenly between two of the sections, but leave the third empty? I think you missed a few details from the article. I don't think this is incredibly revolutionary, but it is still interesting. The roaches seem to attempt to maintain large but evenly sized groups. Instead of the bugs all distributing evenly among the shelters or squeezing as many as would fit into one shelter then all the rest into the second, they struck a balance between group size and eveness.
    • So what you are saying is that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics applies to roach distribution? Interesting. I guess that implies that all available space in the universe will ultimately be populated by roaches.
      • So what you are saying is that the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics applies to roach distribution? Interesting. I guess that implies that all available space in the universe will ultimately be populated by roaches.

        Yes, it's called "Roach Death". There's a related term involving a proliferation of insects of a different family, Formicidae: Ant-ropy.

  • I would have liked to have seen how these groups split up. Mark half, those in the same community group, with some sort of colored agent for distinction purposes. Also attach numbers to their backs for singular ID.

    Are certain roaches more active than others in the "communicating" phase? Do they exhibit "Leadership?" Do the roaches split themselves based on swarm? Is there a consistent distribution of the numbers inside the shelters?
  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:07PM (#15060567)
    Will cockroaches out-survive humans?

    CR1: Is that the sound of a light-switch I hear?
    CR2: Yes!
    CR3: What should we do?
    CR4: Run!
    CR5: Do I have a second?

    Maybe not!

  • Well, how else are politicians going to get their laws passed?
  • Instead of using EGroupware [egroupware.org] or PHPGroupware [phpgroupware.org], we should just start using using silent communications like cockroaches...
     
    "...So does that mean I'm #1, or ....HEY!"
  • by Dekortage (697532) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:12PM (#15060604) Homepage

    Congresspeople Make Group Decisions

    March 30, 2006 — Congresspeople govern themselves in a very simple democracy where each insect has equal standing and group consultations precede decisions that affect the entire group, indicates a new study.

    The research determined that congressperson decision-making follows a predictable pattern that could explain group dynamics of other insects and animals, such as ants, spiders, fish and even cows.

    "Congresspeople use chemical and tactile communication with each other," said José Halloy, who co-authored the research, which is outlined in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. "They can also use vision."

    Halloy, a scientist in the Department of Social Ecology at the Free University of Brussels in Belgium, added, "When they encounter each other they recognize if they belong to the same colony thanks to their antennas that are 'nooses,' that is, sophisticated olfactory organs that are very sensitive."

    Halloy tested congressperson group behavior by placing the insects in a dish that contained three shelters. The test was to see how the Congresspeople would divide themselves into the shelters.

    After much "consultation," through antenna probing, touching and more, the Congresspeople divided themselves up perfectly within the shelters. For example, if 50 insects were placed in a dish with three shelters, each with a capacity for 40 bugs, 25 congresspeople huddled together in the first shelter, 25 gathered in the second shelter, and the third was left vacant.

    When the researchers altered this setup so that it had three shelters with a capacity for more than 50 insects, all of the Congresspeople moved into the first "house."

    Halloy and his colleagues found that a balance existed between cooperation and competition for resources.

    He explained to Discovery News, "Congresspeople are gregarious insects (that) benefit from living in groups. It increases their reproductive opportunities, (promotes) sharing of resources like shelter or food, prevents desiccation by aggregating more in dry environments, etc. So what we show is that these behavioral models allow them to optimize group size."

    The models are so predictable that they could explain other insect and animal group behaviors, such as how some fish and bugs divide themselves up so neatly into subgroups, and how certain herding animals make simple decisions that do not involve leadership.

    David Sumpter, an Oxford University zoologist, told Discovery News that the new study "is an excellent paper."

    Sumpter continued, "It is important because it looks both at the mechanisms underlying decision-making by animals and how those mechanisms produce a distribution of animals amongst resource sites that optimizes their individual fitness. Much previous research has concentrated on either mechanisms or optimality at the expense of the other."

    For congresspeople, it seems, cooperation comes naturally.

  • by grumpyman (849537) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:13PM (#15060614)
    Researchers find that unlike roaches, human make a single group decision on who will make all the group decisions every 4 years.
  • by proudlyindian (781206) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @03:15PM (#15060628) Homepage
    that the last girl who ever visited slashdot was on 4th April who read Roaches who make group decisions
  • Now if we could just get them involved with a religious cult that would inspire them to all commit mass suicide... Roach kool-aid anyone?
  • by minus_273 (174041)
    correct me if i am wrong, but isnt a cokroach Periplaneta americana?
    • Re:huh (Score:2, Informative)

      by jamrock (863246)
      There are over 3,500 species of cockroach, of which Periplaneta americana, the American cockroach, and Blatella germanica, the German cockroach (the species to which TFA refers), are merely the most familiar to homeowners in North America. There are thousands of tropical species which inhabit rainforests, many of them much larger than the largest roaches you'll encounter in a dumpster. In fact the Madgascar Hissing Cockroach, which grows to about 3 inches in length, is a popular pet. And no, they aren't dir
  • cockroaches govern themselves using simple group consultations before anything that affects the entire group

    I've seen them make this decision, repeatedly! My wife walks around outside wearing sandals during the warm summer months, and you can clearly hear one the roaches (sight unseen) go "hey check out the blonde chick with her toes hanging out! Lets go make her scream bloody murder!!!" and then 2 or three come out of nowhere and run over towards her general direction and do exactly that.

    No science needed
  • After much "consultation," through antenna probing, touching and more, the cockroaches divided themselves up perfectly within the shelters. For example, if 50 insects were placed in a dish with three shelters, each with a capacity for 40 bugs, 25 roaches huddled together in the first shelter, 25 gathered in the second shelter, and the third was left vacant.

    Now from this, we can deduce that the cockroaches, after armageddon, will choose to live in mansions and luxury apartments, and stay clear of public
  • Computing? (Score:2, Interesting)

    Given an appropriately-complex apparatus, could one devise a device to utilize the computing power of cockroaches for opimization problems?

    The potential of this cock-puter is mind-blowing...

  • In the prophetic words of starcraft, Evolution Complete!

    =\
  • by lbmouse (473316)
    I can just hear my boss now, "Why can't you guys agree upon a plan of action! Hell! Even cockroaches can make group decisions!!"
  • by BigZaphod (12942) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @04:21PM (#15061172) Homepage
    The caption for the picture in the article reads, "...the cockroaches divided themselves up perfectly." And yet the picture clearly shows at least 4 roaches that are outside of the groups. That's a strange definition of "perfectly" to me. I imagine they are often running around and so perhaps capturing a picture with them all huddled together in their groups would be difficult, but when does the scientist declare that the split was "perfect" and "complete?" Is there a time period or does "perfect" in a biological sense just mean "mostly?"
  • Emergent behavior (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Dachannien (617929) on Tuesday April 04, 2006 @04:23PM (#15061182)
    Obviously, a blurb on the Discovery Channel website isn't the same as going to PNAS and reading the article for oneself, but from what little info was provided there, it doesn't seem to me that actual communication is necessarily what's going on.

    In the case of parceling out a population of roaches into equal-size subpopulations, well, cockroaches stink. Er, that is, they emit chemicals into the air, and an individual cockroach may be able to detect the concentration of such a chemical as it approaches multiple sheltered areas to determine which area is occupied a little bit but not too much. The experimenter should attempt to determine what chemical accounts for such behavior and determine what concentrations are attractive or repulsive to roaches. This doesn't necessarily convey communication, because if the same chemical governs the entire behavior, then each individual cockroach isn't really conveying any information about the state of the colony in a shelter. The information results as the emergent property of having a lot of cockroaches in the same space.

    In the case of roaches determining whether a cockroach is kin or not, this may be governed by similar chemicals which vary slightly among the world population of cockroaches. The same determination is made by single-celled organisms, which respond differently to the presence of certain proteins in the cell membrane. This doesn't indicate that actual communication is taking place, but rather that one cockroach is able to detect chemicals that the other cockroach would be emitting regardless of whether the two were interacting or not.

    One has to be careful when deciding whether a phenomenon is explained by communication or not, because there may be many definitions of communication. Is it communication when one organism does something while oblivious to the reasons why it's doing it, and the results of that action later affect another organism? Does communication require the direct interaction of two organisms? Must the behaviors of both organisms - both emitting and receiving the signal - be neurally based, or can one or both actions be the result of a purely mechanical property of the organisms? Do the organisms have to be aware of the information they are sending or receiving (and there you bring in another ball of wax, because what constitutes awareness)?

  • All they need is Powerpoint and they can start applying for middle management jobs.

    Now that is such beautiful irony... I think I'm going to cry...

  • "They therefore must communicate without vocalizing."

    So do they use email, or IM?

    Or do they communicate using discussion forums?

  • Cockroaches, Blattella Germanica, are silent creatures, save perhaps for the sound of them scurrying over a counter top. They therefore must communicate without vocalizing.

    That's not entirely true. They emit a distress signal very like a popping or crunching sound when stepped on. Though soft (and strangely satisifying) to our ears, the distress signal can be heard over relatively long distances by gigantic, extraterrestial "bugs" and, we assume, their terrestial brethern as well. Didn't the researchers

  • Great, so cockroaches resemble a commitee at the office, making 'group' decisions before they attack that donut you dropped.. And this helps us how?

    Hmm, now that you think about it, sounds a lot like where i work..
  • The research determined that cockroach decision-making follows a predictable pattern ...
    Silly scientists ... anyone who has followed the evolution of Windows already knows this ...
  • I must be VERY hungry.

    I read the headline " Cockroaches Make Group Decisions?"
    As " Cockroaches Make Great Soup "
    I can't imagine how bad that soup would taste. I wonder when Slashdot became a recipie site.
  • This isn't rocket science. We all know that Irak invasion, err liberation, was a group descision involving bush, cheney, as well as halliburton and lockheed martin board of directors.
  • As for me, I'm just sad we have to wait until September for the new season of Blattellastar Germanica.

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