Having always romantisised the Hymenoptera (the venerable social insects), and anthropomorphised their wonderful matriarchal feminism, the mysteries of how they make their men has always fascinated. As I learnt a long time ago, boys come from eggs without needing sperm, they are "made" from unfertilised eggs. That means, for the Hymenoptera to carry on their matriarchal lineage, they manufacture small numbers of males to demand, they don't need superfluous manhood hanging around causing trouble. The old saying "boys will be boys" simply doesn't apply in their world; boys can only be boys when the Queen so wills their very existence. A "first-wave" radical feminist utopia (not that I share such a utopian vision for "us", being post-third-wave myself).
Quite how they achieved this feat was long unknown. Boys are haploid, they carry only one set of their chromosomes; whereas girls get the usual two copies. One thing that is usually thought to be derived exclusively from the sperm (not present in the egg) is a wonderous structure called the centrosome, critical in the ability of cells to divide. The current research shows that, at least in the parasitic wasp studied (pictured above is Muscidifurax uniraptor, one of those studied), anomolous organelles called accesory nuclei (that bud off the main nucleus) can be crafted into a centrosome. It takes a lot of cellular energy to do so, and thus sperm are still more efficient for making the bulk of the useful female population (though Queens often store sperm so males are needed yet for but seconds of their life). This feat of construction means that the social insects, unique among the kingdoms of life, could dispense with lazy, good for nothing men until needed in the ultimate quest for efficient civilisation.Posted by Ian at April 19, 2006 08:09 AM | TrackBack