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jim schaefer asked the Naked Scientists: Really enjoy your programme.Why don't we see insects as large as whales or cows ? Why is the ratio of largest to smallest so much bigger for mammals (blue whale vs kitti's hog nosed bat) than it is for insects (goliath beetle vs fairy fly) ?Thanks,Jim SchaeferAnn Arbor, Michigan, USAWhat do you think?
I believe it also has to do with breathing. Insects do not have lungs, and there is a limit to the volume of body that insect respiration can oxygenate.
Also, they have too little brain compared to animals that can grow larger.
Sure, a distributed nervous system. I'm thinking that, spread out as they are, they lack sufficient connectivity and hierarchy ... and maybe including consciousness.
I wonder about insects and consciousness. The other day I was eating lunch at a picnic table and there was a large dead bug on it. Another insect went up to it, circled around it, paused, and then (I am not making this up) shoved it off the table. Then I watched the bug crawl down the picnic table to where the dead insect was, and haul him away.) How is that not a conscious thought process? And even if you believe it's "instinct" or "programmed" behavior, what test or experimental method would you use to tell the difference between instinctive, automatic behavior and conscious problem solving?
There was a time when Earth had big insects.Meganeura Don't know how correct it is but oxygen content must have played a role.
First you've got to decide precisely what you mean by consciousness in this context. People can mean anything from simple responsiveness to environmental stimuli, through complex adaptive behaviour, to introspective self-awareness. Most people working on concepts of consciousness accept that there is a continuum both of degrees and kinds of consciousness; it isn't a simple thing, you can be conscious to varying extents, and in some ways but not in others.Personally, I'd be inclined to judge this example in terms of adaptability and creativity in problem solving. I'd do a number of different trials with varying parameters to try to establish how flexible and adaptable this particular behaviour was. A widely quoted (and debated) example of this kind of thing involves a particular species of sphex wasp that is said to show such rigid action patterns that it can be tricked into repeating them ad-infinitum (see Sand Wasps & Fixed Action Patterns). But this isn't the whole story - other sphex species don't get locked into this repetitive loop, some only briefly, and there seems to be some variation between individuals of a species too; does this mean they're 'more conscious' than those that do? And, of course, fixed, repetitive behaviour is not necessarily diagnostic of lack of consciousness - ask OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) sufferers.
In the past, scientists were accused of anthropomorphizing other species that seemed to be problem solving or displaying emotions.
But it seems more unscientific to me to suggest that human behaviors suddenly popped into existence with us and have no roots in other species. It is fascinating, however, when animals or insects demonstrate similar behaviors with very tiny or different brains.
That question causes me to ask: Why are there on insect sized whales?