Eating together, eating alone
By Thomas D. Albright
November 24, 2005
There is a tiny worm that lives in your vegetable garden. This worm is known as a nematode and,
although the species is almost as old as the dirt itself, the nematode exhibits a variety of
interesting behaviors. Not surprisingly, most of these behaviors are associated with eating.
As it happens, many nematodes like to eat as a group, while other nematodes prefer to eat alone.
This distinction between social and solitary eating is pronounced and can be seen all across the
Some large predatory mammals such as tigers, for example tend to eat alone, whereas many
grazing animals, such as gazelles, tend to eat in large social groups. Biologists have argued that
there is a trade-off between these two types of behaviors. Solitary eaters would seem to benefit
because they don't have to compete with others for food, which may be a limited resource. On
the other hand, while social eaters must share the food, they benefit from the opportunity to meet
other members of their kind, which may enrich their lives immensely through offerings of
companionship and mutual protection.
Primates are almost universally social eaters. Monkeys, for example, generally forage together
for fruits, nuts, insects and grain, and they eat communally. By way of these experiences they
form strong family bonds that last a lifetime.