When Is A Lifeboat An Oxymoron?

Plagues of locusts are one of the more unwelcome visitors that arrive on our doorsteps, and they have been arriving unbidden for a very long time. Luckily they don’t do this every year, but occasionally is certainly often enough. Of course, if they were regular visitor, we would have started an industry in processed locust burgers or some such wondrous delicacy.

It is rather interesting to get down and dirty amongst the locusts, though. What happens is that times look good and they start on a population boom.  That becomes too much of a good thing and the food supply runs short. Hungry juveniles won’t put up with that and off they go in search of a good meal.

So far so good but they are in a “lifeboat situation” as Hansen et al refer to their predicament in the journal of Behavioral Ecology and Social Biology (1).  The moving mass gobbles all the food available and the juveniles are still hungry. They are short of protein and salt.

Back to the lifeboat analogy. What is one to do in a lifeboat when one is short of good protein and one is sitting surrounded by the same? Exactly, and that’s what the locust do. The hungriest ones do more walking than flying and are targeted by their erstwhile friends and are sacrificed to the general good.

The cannibalistic youngster can now fly more and further and drive the finding of new food sources, that is, they control the flow of insects. So sacrificing some bodies for the general good ensures success of the remaining individuals in reaching greater heights of success and contentment.

This sounds rather like the current advice that consultants are giving to many large corporations these days, although they don’t actually mention the lifeboats.

  1. http://www.springerlink.com/content/q255814671k6k148/

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