Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Letter
  • Published:

Eusociality in a coral-reef shrimp


THE apex of animal social organization is eusociality, which has three characteristics: overlapping generations, reproductive division of labour, and cooperative care of young1,2. So far, eusociality has been recognized only among social insects and the African mole-rats3–5. Here I report the first case of eusociality in a marine animal. The sponge-dwelling shrimp Synalpheus regalis lives in colonies that may have >300 individuals, but that contain only one reproductive female. Direct-developing juveniles remain in the natal sponge, and allozyme data suggest that most colony members are full sibs. In laboratory experiments, larger colony members, most of whom apparently never breed, defended the colony against heterospecific intruders. Ecological similarities among mole-rats, termites and these sponge-dwelling shrimp, all of which are diploid animals, strengthen arguments that eusociality is favoured by gradual metamorphosis, parental care, and occupation of protected, expansible niches6.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Michener, C. D. A. Rev. Ent. 14, 229–342 (1969).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Wilson, E. O. The Insect Societies (Belknap, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1971).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Jarvis, J. U. M. Science 212, 571–573 (1981).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Sherman, P. W. Jarvis, J. U. M. & Alexander, R. D. The Biology of the Naked Mole-Rat (Princeton Univ. Press, NJ, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Jarvis, J. U. M., O'Riain, M. J., Bennett, N. C. & Sherman, P. W. Trends Ecol. Evol. 9, 47–51 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Alexander, R. D., Noonan, K. M. & Crespi, B. J. in The Biology of the Naked Mole-Rat (eds Sherman, P. W., Jarvis, J. U. M. & Alexander, R. D.) 3–44 (Princeton Univ. Press, NJ, 1991).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Snelgrove, P. V. R. & Lewis, J. B. Mar. Biol. 101, 249–257 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Duffy, J. E. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 90, 127–138 (1992).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Duffy, J. E. Biol. J. Linn. Soc. Lond. (in the press).

  10. Duffy, J. E. J. crust. Biol. (in the press).

  11. Nakashima, Y. J. Ethol. 5, 145–159 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Hamilton, W. D. J. theor. Biol. 7, 1–52 (1964).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Queller, D. C. & Goodnight, K. F. Evolution 43, 258–275 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Rützler, K. Tetnys 7, 249–264 (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Erdman, R. B. & Blake, N. J. J. crust. Biol. 7, 328–337 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Lin, N. & Michener, C. D. Q. Rev. Biol. 47, 131–159 (1972).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Michener, C. D. Proc. 10th Int. Congr. Ent., Montreal, 1956 Vol. 2, 442–447 (1958).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Wilson, E. O. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (Belknap, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1975).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Evans, H. E. BioScience 27, 613–617 (1977).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Andersson, M. A. Rev. Ecol. Syst. 15, 165–189 (1984).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Hölldobler, B. & Wilson, E. O. The Ants (Belknap, Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 1990).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  22. Kent, D. S. & Simpson, J. A. Naturwissenschaften 79, 86–87 (1992).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Itô, Y. Trends Ecol. Evol. 4, 69–73 (1989).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Crespi, B. J. Nature 359, 724–726 (1992).

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. Dardeau, M. R. Mem. Hourglass Cruises 7(2), 1–125 (1984).

    Google Scholar 

  26. Knowlton, R. E. J. nat. Hist. 7, 273–306 (1973).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Dobkin, S. R. F. A. O. Fish. Rep. 57, 935–946 (1969).

    Google Scholar 

  28. Knowlton, N. Evolution 34, 161–173 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Knowlton, N. & Keller, B. D. Bull. mar. Sci. 37, 893–904 (1985).

    Google Scholar 

  30. Spanier, E., Cobb, S. J. & James, M.-J. Oikos 67, 573–576 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Duffy, J. Eusociality in a coral-reef shrimp. Nature 381, 512–514 (1996).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing