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Social Insects

It has six legs, two pairs for each part of the thorax (the central part of the insect that the head, wings, and legs are attached to), and an exoskeleton, which is an outer shell. It may also have two pairs of wings, two sets of jaws, and two kinds of eyes. What is this creature? It is a typical insect, and insects of all kinds have existed on earth for millions of years. Sometimes we think of all insects as pests. Human life, however, would have a difficult time continuing without insects, because they pollinate plants and are a food source for many animals. Besides, insects, especially the social ones, are fascinating.

One very interesting and useful social insect is the honey bee. Bees are considered social insects because they live and work together. They cooperate and communicate in order to survive. The bee lives in a beehive with other workers and drones, and with the queen, who can lay thousands of eggs a day. The worker bees make wax used to create new cells within the honeycomb inside the hive. Humans use this valuable beeswax in candles, cosmetics, expensive furniture polish, and other products. Worker bees also make honey from nectar collected as they go from flower to flower. During these flights, bees carry pollen that fertilizes plants so that they will reproduce. Thus bees help to keep plants growing. They also produce honey, a valuable food for humans (as well as for bees).

Another fascinating social insect is the ant. Many types of ants live in colonies underground. There thousands of them build and maintain their "city." They keep it clean and free of enemies. They also cooperate to provide food, sometimes in a manner that looks human. For example, some ants actually raise their own food. One type of ant "farmer" keeps and cares for aphids. Aphids are tiny insects that suck sweet sap from plants. Ant farmers milk their aphids for this sap, just like actual farmers milk cows. The sap is then given as food to young ants and to the queen, whose main duty is to lay eggs.

Another type of ant that produces its own food does so by gardening, rather than by raising "livestock." These farmer ants take pieces of leaves into the colony and chew them up. The soft, chewed up leaves then sprout a fungus that the worker ants use to feed the queen and young ants. There are many other ways that ants cooperate to maintain and protect their colonies.

There are also many other kinds of social insects. What makes them all so fascinating is their organization. Although each insect has certain tasks to perform, the entire hive or colony appears to function as one living organism.

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4th Grade Reading Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test
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College of Education, University of South Florida ©2013.