A superorganism is an organism consisting of many organisms. This is usually meant to be a social unit of eusocial animals, where division of labour is highly specialised and where individuals are not able to survive by themselves for extended periods of time. Ants are the best-known example of such a superorganism, while the naked mole rat is a famous example of the eusocial mammal. The technical definition of a superorganism is “a collection of agents which can act in concert to produce phenomena governed by the collective,” phenomena being any activity “the hive wants” such as ants collecting food or bees choosing a new nest site.
The Gaia hypothesis of James Lovelock and the work of James Hutton, Vladimir Vernadsky and Guy Murchie, have suggested that the biosphere can be considered a superorganism. This view relates to Systems Theory and the dynamics of a complex system.
Superorganisms are important in cybernetics, particularly biocybernetics. They exhibit a form of “distributed intelligence,” a system in which many individual agents with limited intelligence and information are able to pool resources to accomplish a goal beyond the capabilities of the individuals. Existence of such behavior in organisms has many implications for military and management applications, and is being actively researched.
What is to be considered the individual?
Some scientists have suggested that individual human beings can be thought of as “superorganisms“; as a typical human digestive system contains 1013 to 1014 microorganisms whose collective genome (“microbiome“) contains at least 100 times as many genes as our own.