Sunday 12 June 2011

The Hellfish Gene

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.

                                                            ~ Samuel Butler.

It’s odd the way one line of thought leads to another. I was talking about the pointlessness of religious ritual today, which led to my thinking about how utterly ritualistic insects are. Which led me to thinking of...insect reproduction.

You know how praying mantis females will often eat the males during copulation? The female will turn her head back over her shoulder after the male mounts her, and snack on his head while he’s having sex with her. The point is that even after the head is removed, the rest of the body will continue having sex until it’s done. After which, if she wants, the female can eat it too.


Now look at bees. You all know, of course, that worker bees die after they sting, because the barbed sting is ripped out along with the poison glands and a good part of the intestines and stays behind in the wound. Now, you also know that drones, which don’t have stings, die after mating, which they do only once, of course. This is because their genitals, which originate from the same body parts as the worker bees’ stings, rip out along with the intestines and stay inside the queen bee’s reproductive tract...where they keep working to fertilise her throughout her life.

The equivalent, my male friends, is of your penis remaining behind inside your significant other’s vagina – and taking your testicles and part of your intestines with them. It’s like them, then, remaining alive and active while’re screaming on the ground. Uh, fun. Yeah, that’s what I meant. Fun.

So, the bee gene being programmed to make more bees chose to have a perpetual mating machine installed inside the queen rather than force her to go out over and over. The drone is disposable in this, since if he can’t breed the workers will kick him out to starve to death in the winter anyway.

Then, spiders. Spiders? Spiders aren’t insects. That’s why they’re slightly less suicidal than kamikaze bees. A male spider is usually a fraction the size of his potential mate, and she might easily make a meal of him. So he brings her a bribe of an insect wrapped in silk, and while she’s inspecting it he does the job and disappears. Or else he ties her down with silk thread and rapes her while she’s busy trying to free herself. At least he survives to breed again, unlike the bee.

In all this, you’ll note that the male is of little importance in the scheme of things; and some ant species have dispensed with the gender altogether, which makes them anathema to the eyes of most organised religions, it seems to me!

Oh, wait, I haven’t told you about the fun part of being a male yet. A male anglerfish – now we are on fishes, I’m sorry, but see how I drift? – is tiny compared to the female. And the female looks like this:

Mrs Universe

So what does the male do? His genes’ need to perpetuate themselves drives him to go find the female, which is itself none too easy because most anglerfish species live way, way down in the lightless depths of the abyss where life is hard and finding a female may be a bit of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. So, he finds the female and...he bites her and holds on.

For life.

His mouth fuses with her, his inessential organs atrophy, and he becomes completely dependent on her as a vehicle and a source of food and shelter, all in return for him being there sexually for her whenever she needs him. For life, as I said.

Like this, come to think of it

And...lions. Don’t forget lions. When a male lion takes over a pride, he goes out of his way to murder the cubs. Why? So that the lionesses will put out for him and bear his cubs, and perpetuate his genes.

Bling of the Jungle

Richard Dawkins got it wrong. He should have called his book The Hellfish Gene.


  1. See? Male humans don't have it so bad.

    Every time I read something like this, however, it makes me realize that humanity has watered itself down and that the fittest aren't the only ones passing on our genes. In a real Darwinian scenario, I'm not sure we're the ones that would make it.

    On the other hand, fitness to copulate might not be the best test for what's best for the species or the planet.

    I dunno. I'll think about it some more while I plot against the males...

  2. lol... and we call THEM the 'weaker' sex?

    read somewhere females in some species have no need of males... they can, somehow, fertilize themselves... go figger....


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