Guest Rant: Eric Grissell on Hymenoptera Sex



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.

Sex wasp-style

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.


  1. There once was a bee named Hymenoptera,
    Who wanted to stage his own orgy-a.
    He soon got his wish,
    But just with one swish,
    She ripped off his little what-call-ya.

  2. Bees have freakish genetics w/their haplodiploid foolishness. Still, they’re awesome, even the Africanized ones.

  3. Son of immaculate conception
    whose mother induces erection
    but after they’ve mated
    the boy is castrated
    Beware the Wasp mom’s affection!

  4. You did say bawdy, right? Here goes:

    The male honeybee, a Drone
    A genetic Halfling, a clone
    Has only one reason
    in her Majesty’s season
    to service, then die, with no bone

    There once was a bee from Hempstead
    Whose appendage was huge, so he said
    He bragged he’d get more,
    When he courted the Whore
    Then reality clashed with the head

  5. There once was a bee from Niagara
    Who stuffed himself full of Viagra
    His queen sought his sperm
    And then gripped him quite firm
    And soared off with his wee candelabra

  6. The resident TROLL at the Rant
    Surely crapped in his pants
    The ruthless female dominatrix role
    In the sex lives of Bees, Wasps and Ants
    A white howling – lawn jockey ornament
    His evolutionary future foretold

  7. There once was bee named McGuyver,
    His love in the sky he did fly for.
    She tore him apart,
    he lost more than his heart,
    but found sex with the queen
    was to die for!

  8. Bravo to the limerick-sters. I’d try my hand at it but the competition’s too strong.
    BUT, I do have about 20,000-30,000 Italian honey bees in my backyard — just one hive that I started in April — and they are just wonderful to study.

  9. There once was a lonely queen bee,
    who hovered morosely near her favorite tree.

    She sighed, “It’s that time of year, when I shed many a tear,

    For my true love’s stick, after it gets dipped in my wick,

    Falls to the ground,

    Alas ne’re to be found,

    Leaving me to repeat, this dreadful search for fresh meat.”

    “Oh,” she says, “how I tire of this grisly fate-loving to death, my dearly, beloved mate.”

  10. Said the wasp to the bee.
    “Your procreation, how can it be?”
    I love myself and that’s OK.
    I’ll live to love another day.
    But offspring we both will see.

  11. OK…I thought about it. Let me try again…

    There once was a wasp, an ant and a bee
    Who conversed on their sexuality
    While the bee and the ant
    Went into a RANT
    The wasp said, “I’ve done it to me!”

    Bonus points for using the word RANT?!?

  12. If the last one isn’t the winner— here is my last attempt.

    A conversation between a wasp, a bee and an ant
    Ended up in an asexual rant
    Said the wasp to the bee
    Take a good look at me
    I can be my own children’s aunt.

  13. There once were two bees named Martha and Dennick.
    When discussing things ‘swarm’ and ‘genetic’-
    Martha gushed “I’ve got a new plan,
    we don’t need us no man,
    from now on we’ll be parthenogenic!”

  14. I’d like to be an ant at a picnic
    going where I’m not always allowed.

    Or I could be a wasp on your pant leg
    buzzing and just hanging around.

    But, if you ask me what I DON’T want to be
    It’s a bee making love to the Crown.

  15. Does my wife need me?
    Said, the wasp, ant and bee.

    Should I be good enough to please
    or should I be seized?

    Until the Queen stops and sees
    I would not want to be a Queens mate

    Because if, she likes me
    Her mate I might be and that would surely seal my fate.

  16. Those female wasps who are mothers,
    Lay eggs that will all be brothers,
    Sex with their sons,
    Begets girls by the tons,
    For this tale and others, look ‘tween this book’s covers.

  17. Couldn’t resist one more…

    While frolicking out in the garden,
    A queen wasp desired a hard one
    so she birthed out a few
    for a manly wasp crew
    without so much as a “beg your pardon”

  18. The once was a diploid male bee
    A strange, and unique, rarity
    “A Kingdom, I’ll start”,
    “With this pow’r to impart…”
    Alas, there’s no progeny.

  19. There was a Queen Bee named Kate
    who decided it was time for a date
    with lust in the air, she hadn’t a care,
    but the same can’t be said for her mate

  20. A male Peponapis (Squash Bee)
    Likes to impress his bride, so he
    waits inside a squash flower,
    and exhibits male power,
    by sating both pumpkin, and she

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