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polyethismPolyethismus (ger.)

  • The display of different patterns of behaviour by particular individuals within a colony of social insects. (OED 2011)
    On analogy with the phenomenon of polymorphism in ants […] we may term the possession of different behavior repertoires in different members of the same species at the same stage of growth, polyethism
    Chance, M.R.A. (1956). The role of convulsions in behavior. Behavioral Science 2, 30-45: 42.

    Polyethism in workers of the ant Myrmica

    Weir, J. (1958). Polyethism in workers of the ant Myrmica. Insectes Sociaux 5, 97-128; 315-339.


    Weir […] has used the term “polyethism” to mean, in a rather special sense, the differences in “job preference” among worker ants. Actually, the term would be quite useful if more broadly employed as a synonym for the cumbersome “division of labor,” and a distinction made between “age polyethism” and “caste polyethism.”

    Wilson, E.O. (1963). The social biology of ants. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 8, 345-368: 356-7.


    The phenomena associated with castes in social insects can be classified as anatomical polymorphism, biochemical polymorphism, and polyethism (variation in behavior resulting in division of labor)

    Law, J.H., Wilson, E.O. & McCloskey, J.A. (1965). Biochemical polymorphism in ants. Science 149, 544-546: 546.


    polyethism The division of labour within a society on the basis of morphological castes (caste polyethism) or age (age polyethism).

    Lincoln, R.J., Boxshall, G.A. & Clark, P.F. (1982). A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics: 197.