Who Needs Males Anyway?

Not us, says Mycocepurus smithii. These bold little ants manage perfectly well without any males of the species, according to researchers from The University of Texas at Austin and Brazil. And being ants they certainly don’t have any problem reproducing. Goodness knows how they do it, the article doesn’t explain, but as long as they are happy that’s OK by me.

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7 Responses to Who Needs Males Anyway?

  1. Phiala says:

    Thelytokous parthenogenesis.

    Aren’t you glad you asked?

    Through one mechanism or another, an unfertilized egg develops into a female ant with the full complement of genetic material (diploid). No males necessary.

    Other ant species do this along with genetic reproduction. This is the only species known to exclusively reproduce without males.

    Actually, lots of species (mostly arthropods) do some of their reproduction without males. Aphids are my favorite: asexual reproduction in the summer, to efficiently produce lots of babies who are happy with mom’s host plant (genetically just like mom), then sexual reproduction in the autumn to produce eggs that overwinter and may be suited for a larger range of host plants. Very efficient, no?

  2. Cheryl says:

    Good old Intrawebs, all knowledge is contained therein.

    Thank you!

  3. Lee says:

    Hi Phiala, just the person to ask, then! I’ve been planning to do some reading about ants but am a bit reluctant to spring for Bert Holldobler’s The Ants, which is awfully pricey. Have you got another suggestion? I’m especially interested in their social behaviour.

    That information about aphids is fascinating, by the way. I’ll never look at my (scraggly) roses in the same way again.

  4. Phiala says:

    Lee, I’m actually the wrong kind of biologist to ask. Anything you want to know about plants? 🙂

    Seriously, I’d try EO Wilson’s back catalog. There isn’t anything that is current AND comprehensive AND affordable, but some of his older books are available used for very reasonable prices on Amazon. Try The Insect Societies or The Superorganism. Or, more accessible: Journey to the Ants.

    Wikipedia gives a link to a free online version of Success and Dominance in Ecosystems: The Case of the Social Insects on its E O Wilson page.

    Aren’t the aphids neat? I used to teach college biology to non-majors, and have a nearly-endless fund of weird anecdotes intended to convince them that this biology crap wasn’t entirely boring.

  5. Lee says:

    Thanks, Phiala, a great help. And biology is far from boring! Here’s what a botanist friend (crop diversity/South Africa) and her daughter have been working on:


  6. Phiala says:

    Lee, I know that! But a classroom full of non-majors taking intro biology on Saturday afternoon needs some convincing.

    The ecology side of that book is very much like the kind of work I do, though I work with grazing rather than crops.

  7. Jonathan C says:

    Gee. Reproduction without genetic variation.

    That’ll help in the evolutionary stakes

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