The “Science” of the birds and the Combees Part 2: All my sons

In the previous part of this series, we saw that it is pretty easy for a queen bee to decide whether to have male or female offspring. Vespiquen are definitely all female, but Combee has a strange skew in the likelihood of being a male or female. In fact, any Combee egg has an 87.5% chance of being a male. This is particularly strange, because bees have significantly more females in their colonies than males. What’s going on with all these male Combee?

combee

In the bee colony, some seriously strange things go on. Female worker bees grow stingers due to their lifestyle and chromosome number. The bee stinger is really a modified ovipositor, which is the organ responsible for laying eggs. Worker bees don’t bother laying eggs, so their stinger grows sharp and barbed. The Queen has a smoother stinger, and the males have no stinger at all, thanks to not having an ovipositor.

Main organs of a worker bee.
The male Drone, female Worker and Queen. The queen and worker bees both have stingers, but the worker does not have a functioning ovipositor

With Combee, they don’t really need to worry about having stingers or not because they can use moves that animals can’t, such as bug bite and bug buzz, to protect themselves and their colony. Also, male Combee can collect honey and contribute to the running of the hive, which real drones don’t do. Their ability to work is not at all inhibited by their chromosome count.

 

Something still doesn’t add up. When we want a baby Combee, we can put Vespiquen and a male pokemon into the daycare, and we will get a bunch of eggs. However, I don’t think they are actually breeding in the same way as other Pokemon breed. Every so often we will get a female Combee, because the Vespiquen bred with a partner, but most of the time the Vespiquen doesn’t breed, it just produces a haploid egg by itself, which hatches into a male. She may just be in a safe and happy environment when she is in the daycare and so she breeds happily, even though it is just by herself.

 

Is there even a reason she would want to have more males than females in her colony? As we know, the male Combee can actively contribute to the running of the hive. That means they actually have an important role and aren’t limited like Drones. However, because they are haploid and got all their genetic material from their mother, they have 100% of the same DNA as the mother and are very, very loyal to her. Due to a thing called Kin Selection, animals that have really high relatedness to each other are more likely to work together, so these males will work together very happily in order to protect their mother. However, a female Combee is only 50% related to her mother and (because of some crazy genetics) 75% related her sisters, and will therefore be more loyal to her sisters than her mother. Now, females require mating, are less related and loyal to their mother, can only forage and defend as well as a male, and there is always the possibility that they may one day try to usurp their mother or leave the colony if they evolve into a Vespiquen. So from this point of view it is much better for a mother Vespiquen to produce male offspring.

Bee relatedness

The Pokemon world doesn’t always match up with our world, but using the principles of science we can still look at it and come to conclusions about how it all works together. So next time you think a Pokemon is strange, investigate the reasons it might be that way, because you may come to an interesting conclusion.

 

More stuff to read

Gempe, T. & Beye, M. (2009) Sex determination in honeybees. Nature Education 2(2):1

Foster, K. R., et al. (2006). Kin selection is the key to altruism. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21(2): 57-60.

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