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Insect Gender-Bender

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There are no king ants.

Adam: Today we are MEN!
Barry: BEE men!

It's a fact that, throughout history, humans have dwelled in mostly patriarchal societies where the males are dominant and females are primarily childrearers. Because of this, the queen bee was called a "king" by beekeepers until dissections under microscopes in the eighteenth century showed them to be female. Since then we have come to realize that most organized insect hives are started, run and overwhelmingly populated by females. In Hymenopteran social insect colonies (ants, bees, wasps, etc.), females are the only ones who have any semblance of a job, and are responsible for all the work involved in running things, such as building, foraging, defending from outsiders, and most especially creating eggs for the continuation of the swarm. The males? They have sex and then die — or are eaten (or sometimes both). At most, honeybee drones sometimes use their wing beats to help heat or cool the hive.

Fiction often fails to acknowledge this. Instead intelligent insects in fantasy media will usually have as a hero ... a male worker? The fact that the ant and bee workers are all females (albeit sterile), and the only males are Drones created solely from the genetics of the queen to fertilize queens of a different colony and quickly die after this mission is complete, sometimes by the queen ripping the male's genitalia out of his body, seems to have no bearing on this trope. It probably doesn't help that, in normal usage, a "drone" is someone or something who works mindlessly, leading to them being confused with the worker ants, who are a separate caste.

Admittedly, there are a few species of ants where males have longer lives and perform duties in the nest such as assisting with caring for young, serving more functions than just breeding, but these ants are not exactly well known enough to be featured in common media.

Further, because the stinger of the Hymenoptera is a modified egg-laying organ, only females can sting. Fiction often depicts male wasps, bees and ants with stingers. Fiction also tends to show an even or near even split between males to females, when there are barely a few hundred males for thousands of females in most insect societies due to the nature of how sexes are decided.

Note that termite colonies are much closer to human expectations. Termites aren't related to bees, ants, and wasps (they're actually a type of cockroach), so they evolved eusociality completely separately. For example, reproductive male termites don't die after sex — they spend the rest of their sometimes decades-long lives in the nest with the queen, and are called "kings". The workers can also be either male or female. Surprisingly (or maybe not), few fiction writers have taken advantage of this.

On its way to becoming a Cyclical Trope. More realistic portrayals of insect societies sometimes appear in works mining it for social or political commentary, or in science fiction intentionally using its unfamiliar nature to make insectoid aliens feel more strange.

This trope also applies to biting male mosquitoes, when in reality, only female mosquitoes bite.note 

A subtrope of Artistic License – Biology. Can be combination of Somewhere, an Entomologist Is Crying and Most Writers Are Male. Subtrope of Animal Gender-Bender. Can be an example of the The Smurfette Principle.


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Played straight:

  • Honey Nut Cheerios and Nasonex feature anthropomorphic male honeybees as their mascots.
  • Sexual Violence with the Birds and the Bees: The bee guy in the second episode has a stinger. In real life, only female bees have stingers, since they are modified ovipositors.

    Films — Animated 
  • Antz portrays males and females among both soldiers and workers. The hero, naturally, is male.
  • A Bug's Life:
    • Females rule the colony, and while some see many of the minor workers as female that doesn't detract from the fact the movie centers around a wingless male worker.
    • Played with when a (male) fly makes a pass at Francis, who responds: "So, being a ladybug automatically makes me a girl, huh?"
  • The Ant Bully. At least they had the decency to make the Queen huge and immobile. It does depict a male Glow-worm. Glow-worms are wingless female fireflies—males are winged beetles.
  • Bee Movie:
    • A lawyer points out that the main character's parents are actually siblings to make bees look bad. In real life, all bees in a generation share a common mother in the queen, and there are multiple fathers (a queen typically mates with 12-15 drones) who die shortly after mating. The protagonist Barry as well as the "pollen jocks" are all male, even though all worker bees are female.
    • Later in the movie, a mosquito (obviously male) complains that he's always being slapped for sucking a person's blood. Male mosquitoes are rarely seen and only feed on plants. It's the female mosquitoes that feed on blood. They need the protein for their eggs.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The TV movie Mansquito (oh yes; it's a Syfy Channel Original Movie) has a human-mosquito hybrid killing people and drinking their blood. Problem is it's a mansquito, so he's not growing any eggs and shouldn't require blood at all. While this COULD be written off as the radioactive gunk also changing his gender (if it can make a mammal part-insect, why not?) it enters flat out ridiculous territory when he begins pursuing a WOMAN who has been mutated to a lesser extent. And while even that could be written off as a twofer Gender Bender, the fact that SHE also craves blood completely extinguishes the possibility for any amusing Fanon theories.
  • In Ant-Man Scott consistently refers to the worker ants that aid him with male pronouns, even naming one "Antony". While this would hardly change the actual biological sex of the ants, but no one bothers to correct him. He continues the trend in Ant-Man and the Wasp, coming up with more Punny Names that are male-inspired, like "Ant-onio Banderas". Still no one comments.

  • Hesiod's poem Theogony has a misogynistic passage comparing women to drones and men to worker bees, ever so slightly undermining its attempt to imply gender roles are immutable. So this is Older Than Feudalism.
  • Gor:Not so much averted as flatly denied with the Priest-Kings of Gor. They are giant hyper-intelligent ants, and apart from the hyper-intelligent science, their culture follows that of ants in detail (they communicate by scent, tolerate dangerous parasites in their nest for the sake of their euphoric secretions, on occasion turn themselves into living storage jars for food, etc.) EXCEPT that they're all male apart from one queen, and are as given as Gorean human males to making comments about the irrationality of females. But given that this author has defined a new standard for misogyny, anything else would be unthinkable.
  • The First Men in the Moon: Despite being described as similar to ants, the Grand Lunar is referred to as a male by the narrator.

  • In Alice Cooper's The Black Widow, which extols all the terrible evil majestic qualities of the spider note , the deadly, pitiless and evil monarch who devours its mate immediately after sex - is described as "he" and "unholiest of kings".
    The evil of his sting
    The horror that he brings,
    Unholiest of kings -
  • Aqua's "Bumble Bees" uses bees and pollination as a metaphor for sex and faithfulness. It has Lene, the female singer, singing about being a flower, while René, the male singer, plays the part of the bee. In reality, it is the female bees who go out and pollinate flowers.
  • The nursery rhyme "The Ants Go Marching" refers to the ants as male ("The little one stops to suck his thumb" or "tie his shoe") in the verses where gendered pronouns are used. Male ants are drones who only leave the nest to mate (after which they die), and they do so by flying; the worker and soldier ants who might actually be seen marching around are all female.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The Far Side: Gary Larson received many complaints after drawing a cartoon showing a male mosquito coming home saying "What a day! I must have spread malaria across half the country!" It's the female mosquito that sucks blood. His response: "Of course, it's perfectly acceptable that these creatures wear clothes, live in houses, speak English, etc."
  • The ants in B.C. don't even have a hive structure; anthills contain family groups of mom, dad, and one or more kids. The mom isn't a huge queen either, she's just an ant with eyelashes.

    Professional Wrestling 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • There's a race of insect-like creatures called Dromites. Dromites are genderless with the exception of the Grand Queen and Elected Consort, both of whom are responsible for populating the entire city hive. Also, the Queen and her Consort are elected every year, so how exactly the dromites gain sexual characteristics is unknown. However, it does resemble real life in that neither the Grand Queen or the Elected Consort does much, so ruling is presumably left to the normal dromites.
    • The ant-like Formians have an immobile queen (who also has very powerful magic abilities), male "myrmarch" caste of field leaders and consorts, and sexless worker, soldier and slaver castes.
  • While the Tyranids of Warhammer 40,000 are genderless, the most powerful units are referred to as male (Broodlord, Swarmlord...). Every 'nid is spawned from seldom-seen units called Norn Queens.

    Video Games 
  • Best Fiends:
    • Edward is a male mosquito that regrets his former blood sucking ways, and has since switched to coconut water. However, as a male mosquito, he should have had a diet like that to begin with.
    • Carmen is a cochineal. While she still has the red tint that female cochineal are known for (their tint is what makes up carmine), she also has wings, a trait only male cochineal have.
  • Mister Mosquito is yet another example of the "blood-sucking male mosquito" subtrope.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3, The Pain refers to the hornets he controls as his brothers, and actually uses the queen to direct their attacks from the backpack he carries.
  • Charmy (a rarely-seen character from some Sonic the Hedgehog games) is a male bee with a stinger. He's also a 'child' despite not being a larva.
  • King's Quest V
  • The fifth generation of Pokémon introduced Durant, an ant based pokemon. They lack queens and they all seem to be workers that can be either male or female.

    Western Animation 
  • Beast Wars:
    • Inferno believes himself to be a soldier ant, but seems to identify as male. Since he also recognizes Megatron as male despite calling him "my queen", this may simply be an attempt to reconcile reality with his insect delusions.
    • Waspinator is a male Predacon whose wasp mode contains a stinger.
    • Just to add to hilarity, Tarantulas and Waspinator were both mistakingly referred as females in earlier episodes of the french dub.
  • In the Bitsy Bears pilot cartoon, the Bitsy Bears create a fake "bee king" to trick Bramble into releasing the kidnapped bees. Bramble never calls them on it, but this could be because they launched their plan in the middle of the night, and she was still half-asleep.
  • One of the vintage animated sequences on Sesame Street shows a young male bee sent out on his first nectar-collecting expedition by his mommy and daddy bees. As explained in other areas of the article, every worker bee in real life is a female.
  • A 1942 cartoon of Barney Bear had the eponymous hungry bear using a female windup doll to lure the bees away from their hive so he could abscond with their honey (with lipstick, long blond hair, curvy hips and all).
  • An episode of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic features a colony of Flash Bees, whose workers are explicitly referred to as being male, with only the queen being female. In real life, every member of the colony is female except for the breeding drones.
  • The bee in the first episode of Rainbow Brite was a male. Worker bees are female.
  • In The Ren & Stimpy Show, mosquitoes suck blood and prepare to lay eggs. Between their gruff voices and casual use of "man," they sure sound like they should be capable of neither.


    Comic Books  
  • Averted in Clan Apis which portrays a bee hive realistically (apart from all the talking). The only male bee depicted is perfectly okay with his sole purpose in life. The other insects have accurate gender roles as well: The Dung Beetle is male, the Praying Mantis is female etc.

    Films — Animated 
  • Averted in Dot and Keeto, where Keeto the mosquito informs a shrunken Dot that she doesn't have anything to fear from him — he's a male mosquito and as such isn't going to try drinking her blood.

  • Averted, interestingly, in The Bible, in Proverbs 6:6. Considering when that particular book was written and translated, it's probably a manifestation of noun gender (the Old English, Latin and Hebrew words for ant are all feminine, not neuter and thus anything other than "her" would be a grammatical error).
    "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise!"
  • Averted in Rudyard Kipling's The Mother Hive, an undisguised Author Tract that grabbed the stock metaphor and ran with it to the very end without derailing by usual general interpretation failures. Workers are always referred in feminine gender, queen does not exactly publishes decrees (and goaded into activity by workers), drones get mentioned at all exclusively in the contexts of mating flights, swarming or development anomalies.
  • Averted in Empire of the Ants by Bernard Werber, in which it's clearly explained that drones die after they mate. One of the main characters of the non-human part of the story is a drone ant, but he dies before the mating flight.
  • Averted in The Heroic Adventure Of Hercules Amsterdam; no male ants actually appear, but they apparently serve as slaves for females. At one point the Queen actually exiles a female worker into slavery, accusing her of secretly being a "weak" male in disguise.
  • Averted in The Merro Tree by Katie Waitman. There is a sentient hymenopteroid race, the H'n'kae (who are among other things famed for unarmed combat). The worker and warrior castes are entirely made up of females; only a very few males exist at all; the queen is the only H'n'kae who lays eggs and is very very large indeed.
  • The mosquito trope is averted in China Miéville's The Scar: There is a race of sentient humanoid mosquitoes; the males are nectar-eaters and their wings are silent. The females are sanguinivorous, their wings drone when they fly, and they are widely feared. Both sexes are intelligent (and frighteningly so), though the blood-hunger in females makes it difficult for them to converse with any blooded creature long enough to gain a common language.
  • Averted in the Ender's Game series: the Formics are a very accurate depiction of an insect colony, albeit one of intelligent, alien insects.
  • Averted with the bloodsucking mosquito in the Dr. Seuss story, This is Ann. Ann, whose full name is Anopheles Mosquito, is correctly shown as female.
  • Averted in the children's book, Ned Kelly And the City Of the Bees. The main bee character is female, and the drones do die in the end.
  • Averted in The Bees by Laline Paul; the main character is a female worker bee called Flora 717, and bee gender roles are *very* accurately portrayed with her hivemates.
  • Averted in Animorphs. In Book 18, they have to acquire mosquito morphs. Cassie comments that only female mosquitos drink blood. As such, they cannot all acquire the same mosquito, because if it is male then none of them can drink blood. If they each acquire a different one, they increase their chances that at least one will be female.

  • Bee deities in Greek, Baganda, Hittite and Hindu mythology are all female, suggesting that people in these areas knew what the gender of drones and queens was long before European scientists.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Looks to be averted in Star Fleet Battles with the insectoid Seltorians, in that the ships are crewed by female workers. They differ from real hymnopterans in that they are led by 'Sages' who were male 'Rams' that the Queen never got around to mating with, and suddenly survived, became long lived, and much smarter than all the females. But then, they are not insects but insect-inspired aliens.

    Video Games 
  • Oddly, averted in Sword of the Stars. The pseudo-insectoid Hiver race consists primarily of sexless warriors and workers. The breeding caste consists of princesses who are absolute rulers as well as egg-layers, and princes whose duties consist largely of mating with the princesses, as well as trying to claim glory and achievements to prove they're worth mating with. It actually mirrors genuine colony insects quite well, albeit with the addition of sapience and culture, and the divergences are justified because they're not actually insects, but rather extraterrestrial life-forms which resemble Earthly insects, but also have important distinctions — they have an internal skeleton, for instance. (Oh, and cheese gets them drunk.)
  • Averted in, at least DoDonPachi: DaiFukkatsu where it is revealed that Hibachi, the eponymous Angry Boss Bee, is female. Whether this is true for the previous four games or not is unknown.

  • Averted in Demon Street, where all the giant ants staffing the archives are female.

    Western Animation 
  • Averted in The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! where all of the ants, bees, and wasps appear to be female.
  • In The Magic School Bus episode about ants, one of the things the caller in the tag segment complains about is that the producers never bothered to point out that all the worker ants the kids saw were female. When the kids visit a beehive in a later episode, Miss Frizzle specifically informs her students that all the worker bees around them are female.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: Averted in one episode where a mosquito feasting on Filbert the turtle's blood (which passes the disease onto Bev Bighead after she eats the sickened insect) has a bow on its head, implying that it's female.

    Real Life 
  • Averted in Russian language, where a drone is called "трутень" (truten'), and its second meaning is "The one not doing any physical work", which is essentially what drones are. Polish "truteń" has the same two meanings. Loan words, Russian "дрон" (dron) and Polish "dron", are used in the meaning unmanned aerial vehicle.
  • The Spanish word "zángano" (drone) also has the second meaning of "lazy" and has male grammatical gender while "abeja" (Bee) is a female word.


    Films — Animated 
  • Spark Plug Entertainment plays it straight with Plan Bee, which features both male and female worker bees and has a male worker as its protagonist, but averts it with An Ant's Life, where all worker ants are depicted as female.


    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Bug Fables:
    • Normally averted with eusocial species, as all ant and bee characters are female, with several exceptions, and in-universe lore states that male bees are located in the queen's personal quarters. Termites, meanwhile, have a queen and a king, and male termites are commonplace in the Termite Kingdom, which is also accurate. However, it's played straight with wasps, as the main wasp enemies are male despite having stingers and being extremely common, and they are ruled by a king instead of a queen, though the king is actually The Usurper and not even a real wasp, but a fly who brainwashed the entire kingdom, and the true ruler of wasps is a queen.
    • All wasps, including the Wasp Kingdom characters and the adventurer Zasp, have stingers. In real life, wasp stingers are in fact ovipositors, which in several species have become adapted for piercing or sawing in addition to laying eggs. Consequently, only female wasps have them.
  • Jet Force Gemini the 64 shooter plays with this interestingly. The default alien ant soldiers, known as Soldier Drones, as well as most of their variants, are identified as female in the multiplayer mode. There are soldier males of their species, though, which resemble termites.
  • Pokémon:
    • Combee is based on worker honey bees. Not only they can be either male or female, but males are more frequent, having a ratio of seven males for every female. However, only those rare female Combees can evolve into Vespiquen.
    • In Pokémon Sun and Moon, the Ultra Beast Buzzwole, based off a mosquito, resembles a male bodybuilder with muscles formed from blood sacs. Similarly, its counterpart Pheremosa, based off a cockroach, resembles a female supermodel, with a slender body and a hair-like carapace that extends beyond its abdomen. However, only female mosquitoes suck blood, and only male cockroaches, who are thinner than the females, have a carapace that extends beyond their abdomen. Though both of them are genderless, this feature is likely more of an excuse to make them non-breedable than anything else. However, seeing as how both are Ultra Beasts, this may very well have been invoked in order to make them more bizarre and off-putting.