Questions for “These ferns may be first plants known to work together as ants do”

fern colony on a tree trunk

Many of this fern colony’s fan-shaped nest fronds (growing close to the tree trunk) are sterile. Thinner strap fronds (sticking up and out from between the nest fronds) are the more reproductively active members of the colony.  

Ian Hutton

To accompany “These ferns may be first plants known to work together as ants do


Before Reading:

1.  What is a fern and how does it reproduce?

2.  What do you think scientists mean when they describe something as a social species? Name at least two types of social species.

During Reading:

1.  Where do staghorn ferns tend to grow?

2.  What is an epiphyte?

3.  Why does Kevin Burns liken staghorn-fern colonies to an upside-down umbrella?

4.  What does eusocial mean? From what you read, how might staghorn ferns qualify as a eusocial species?

5.  Why does Burns argue that a stressful life may have helped staghorn ferns develop eusocial traits?

6.  What differences does Brian Whyte point out about the staghorn ferns that grow in treetops as compared to those that grow in soil as ornamental plants?

After Reading:

1.  Scientists had largely assumed that eusocial colonies coordinate their tasks deliberately, with intention. But plants don’t have brains to be intentional about what they do. Do you think it’s a stretch to call ferns social organisms? Or do you find it more a metaphor that describes how these plants are merely similar in some way to social animals? Explain your reasoning.