Eric Grissell, author of the delightful Insects and Gardens, is back with a new one: Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens. And yes, we've got a copy to give away–read on. Meanwhile, here's Eric:
Few people realize that it was wasp-sex that prompted Dr. Alfred Kinsey to undertake his studies of human sexuality and create what became the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. Gall-wasp sex to be exact, as we shall see momentarily. Sex among wasps is perhaps the most remarkable in all the animal world, and by wasps I mean all Hymenoptera, which is the insect Order comprised of 150,000 described species of sawflies, true parasitic wasps, stinging parasitic wasps, hunting wasps, bees, and ants. For some inexplicable reason this entire group evolved to reproduce by ingenious methods that set them apart from “normal” as we know it. The list below presents some pertinent facts with which to entertain guests at your next dinner party.
Female wasps do not need males to reproduce. They have a complicated genetic system that allows unfertilized eggs to develop into male offspring. In rare cases this allows a mother to mate with their son(s) thus permitting the production of females. Kinsey would have been intrigued, but his studies involved a different group of wasps.
In the gall-wasps studied by Kinsey, some species have alternating generations composed solely of females that give rise to males and females, then only females again. The adult wasps produced in each generation appear so different they were long considered unique species. Perhaps the confusion surrounding these wasps is what caused Kinsey to switch to human sex. Either that, or he was simply a pervert. Or possibly both.
When mated, female Hymenoptera have the ability to store sperm and control the sex of their offspring by laying unfertilized (male) or fertilized (female) eggs. In social bees, wasps, and ants that have long-lived queens, a female can store sperm for years, yet she lays only female eggs until such time as a reproductive caste (including males) is required.
During the mating flight of honey bees, the queen is fertilized mid-air by many males, each of which has his sexual organ ripped out and then dies. Thankfully this does not occur in humans—at least not to my knowledge.
Previous statements not withstanding, females of a few species can produce females from unfertilized eggs. Thus, some species need no males—ever.
In one group of parasitic wasps females lay male eggs on larval females of their own species, and so must be able to simultaneously regulate the sex of her egg and determine the sex of a prospective host before she does so.
In a few rare species, a single egg can produce 1000 offspring. This is a complicated genetic affair, which thankfully does not occur in humans, although at times it seems like it.
Some ant colonies have been reported to contain a million queens supervising 300 million female workers. At some point males must be produced en masse to mate with the new queens. Imagine the scene at that mating party. Kinsey might have.
In case you haven’t noticed, male Hymenoptera are essentially worthless, being produced on an “as needed” basis. In the vast scheme of things perhaps bees, wasps, and ants got it right; Kinsey would have been better off had he stuck with wasp-sex.
Okay, people! Sharpen your pencils! A copy of Eric's new book goes to the best BAWDY LIMERICK about bee, wasp, or ant sex! Winner announced next Wednesday.