The Loh Down On Science

Listen to Your Heart

The downside of collective decision making, among colonial caterpillars.

Two heads are better than one! Or are they?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science,

saying, perhaps not--if you're a tent caterpillar.

Tent caterpillars are about the size of a tootsie roll. They live in colonies, where members share information. And, just like with bees, ants, or. . . Congress, more little minds working together means more success.

In theory.

To find out, Audrey Dussutour, from the University of Sydney, built a rectangular mini lunchroom out of cardboard and plastic. At one end, she served a nutritionally balanced meal. At the other, junk food.

Forty famished tent caterpillars were released at the center.

In eleven of twenty trials, an intrepid caterpillar found the low-quality grub first-- and recruited its hungry compadres to join in.

The bugs COULD have gone off, on their own, to search for the BETTER food.

But did they? NEVER. Tent caterpillar society dictates that EVERY member has to toe the line, so the bugs automatically ate the bad grub.

In this case, making a decision collectively is a BAD decision.

Unlike how humans vote on American Idol, where our wisdom is infallible! Right!


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