Insect Gender Bender

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Attention, Hollywood--these exist only to mate with the queen and die.

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. But Earth is a diverse place. In the parts of the insect world that are organized, the females rule (the others are loners). In colonies, females—or sometimes the genderless—are the only ones who have any semblance of a life with a job and purpose and are responsible for all the work involved in running things (building, foraging, defending from outsiders, what-have-you). The males? They have sex and then die - or are eaten. But that's not how it is in the human world... most of the time, anyway.

When an insect society like that of ants or bees is depicted in fantasy media, the hero of the story will usually be... a male worker? The fact that the workers in Hymenopteran social insect colonies (ants, bees, wasps, etc.) are all females, and the only males exist to fertilize the queen 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 the need for making the hero a male. After all, you NEED a "Male Lead" who can go out on adventures and save princesses. And as the only actual males in an anthill spend their entire lives doing nothing but providing the queen with a constant supply of genetic material... makes it hard to set up any kind of adventure-hooks.

Furthermore, it would seem like there's an even split between males to females, when usually there are barely a few hundred males for thousands of females in most insect societies due to the nature of how sexes are decided. (Did anyone bother to actually do the research? No.) And don't expect the "exist solely to have sex and die" thing to get anything more than a passing Double Entendre. It probably doesn't help that, in common slang, a "drone" is someone or something who works mindlessly, so a lot of people think that "worker bees" (the females who work) and "drones" (the males who do a different kind of work) are just different names for the same thing.

All in all, if you're a human female (and/or beekeeper), it's enough to really bug you (if you'll pardon the Incredibly Lame Pun).

Of course, it's not quite as simple as all that. Termites have male workers, but Termite Movie probably isn't going to sell well. There are also bees, such as the Alfalfa Leafcutter, which have a one-to-one sex ratio, but they don't make honey or build hives. They're the freaky loners of the bee world.

OK, so insects don't have human language, human facial expressions, human social dynamics etc. either. All those aspects are anthropomorphised, so why not impose human gender politics on Bee People as well? This particular departure from reality is harder to forgive because, unlike granting insects human speech, it's not necessary at all to telling the story - they could easily have an Action Girl heroine. Maybe it's related to other hive-worshiping issues, like portraying a hive as an absolute monarchy (where the "queen" is of course the ruler - as opposed to simply a creature specialized as a reproductive and secretory organ of the collective-organism) or as a sort of republic, depending on the author's preference. Social/political interpretations (and their flexibility) apply to drones as well - the writers may simply have baulked at the idea of portraying males more realistically as disposable mating machines, especially in a family film.

On the flipside, since nearly all the members of these species (aside from queens, future queens, and drones) are sterile, the gender by which they are depicted when anthropomorphised is somewhat ambiguous to begin with (they are only considered biologically 'female' as a result of their technical genetic structure and vestigial, or modified beyond all recognition, physiological characteristics). But that justification just brings up the matter of why your sterile, androgynous characters are all of a sudden striking up romantic relationships with each other (and wait... aren't they all sisters?)

And let's definitely not even get us started on biting male mosquitoes. Only female mosquitoes bite.

A hilariously flawed combination of You Fail Biology Forever and Most Writers Are Male. Possibly the most extreme form of The Smurfette Principle.

Examples of Insect Gender Bender include:


Advertising[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Honey Nut Cheerios features an anthropomorphic male honeybee as their mascot.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Beautifully averted in Clan Apis which portrays a bee hive pretty much 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.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Antz portrays males and females among both soldiers and workers.
  • A Bugs 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 male worker.
  • The Ant Bully. At least they had the decency to make the Queen huge and immobile.
  • Gallavants
  • Bee Movie: A lawyer points out that the main character's parents are actually siblings to make bees look bad. This is even more stupid when you consider that all bees in a generation share a common mother in the queen, and the father would be some drone who died after mating. Let's also not forget the fact that the protagonist Barry as well as the "pollen jocks" are all male, even though all worker bees are female.
    • Here's another example of this trope: 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.
  • The TV movie Mansquito (oh yes) 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 the hell not?) it enters flat out ridiclous 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 twofor Gender Bender, the fact that SHE also craves blood completely extinguishes the possibility for any amusing Fanon theories.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Averted, interestingly, in The Bible, in Proverbs 6:6.

"Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise!"

    • Considering when that particular book was written and translated, it's probably a manifestation of noun gender (both the Old English and Hebrew words for ant are feminine, not neuter and thus anything other than "her" would be a grammatical error).
  • 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.
  • Averted in Rudyard Kipling's The Mother Hive - undisguised Author Tract without any of usual general interpretation failures. Workers are always referred in feminine gender, queen does not exactly publishes decrees (and even gets goaded into activity by workers), drones are mentioned at all only in context of reproduction.
  • 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.
  • The mosquito trope is averted in China Mieville'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 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.
  • Averted in the Ender's Game series: the Formics are a very accurate depiction of an insect colony, albeit one of intelligent, alien insects.
  • Perry Rhodan, due to its nature as an extreme Long Runner written by a team of authors, sometimes averts this trope and sometimes plays it straight. In one memorable case, however, it manages to get this correct but still mess up. In one storyline shortly after the Earth has been teleported across the galaxy (long story), we're introduced to the dominant species of the sector (insectoid; beelike, to be specific) with a slightly disturbing scene where drones are rounded up and executed by the workers after having fulfilled their duty while the queen muses on how lucky she was to have been, among other things, fed the right kind of nectar so she won't have to take care of that - then switches over to a lengthy explanation of how the insects developed because there's too little cosmic radiation in that sector of the galaxy for mammals to evolve quickly enough, causing insects became sentient first.
  • 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.

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • 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."

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • Dungeons & Dragons has 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.
      • The Dromites read pretty much like how a termite society works, as opposed to the Formians. In termites there are both a king and a queen, and they produce pheromones that inhibit the rest of the termites from maturing into reproductive forms while they live. When they die, any worker or soldier in the colony has the potential to turn either into a king or queen (since termites do have a 1:1 sex ratio). This rarely happens, though, since many termites do have secondary queens and kings that are smaller than the main ones but can reproduce from time to time, and in case they die these secondary "monarchs" usually beat any other termite in the "race" to gain "full monarch" status, thus being de facto "royal heirs".
  • Looks to be averted at first in Star Fleet Battles with the insectoid Seltorians, in that the ships are crewed by female workers, but then has them 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.
  • Played with in Pathfinder with the bee-inspired thriae, an all-female species of which only the queens are fertile. (They keep male volunteers from other species in the hive for breeding purposes.)

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • 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 Trope 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.
  • Mister Mosquito is yet another example of the "blood-sucking male mosquito" subtrope.
  • In Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, The Pain refers to the hornets he controls as his brothers. How can you know enough about hornets to command them to make a body double of you but not know what sex they are?
    • To be fair, knowing what gender something is is unnecessary in 99.99% cases where you train it to make a body double of you.
  • For Pokémon, Combee skirts the line between aversion and playing it straight.
    • On one hand, Combee is 87.5% male, 95.8333% male if you count each Combee's heads as an individual entities. Work appears to be done by ALL the Combee, as evidenced by the fact that all Combee can only have the ability Honey Gather, which basically makes Combee randomly collect Honey if it isn't holding an item. This plays the trope straight.
    • On the other hand, Combee averts the trope heavily:
      • Only the female Combee evolve (this may justify the fact only 12.5% of Combee are female-the alternative of allowing a gender-neutral function for male Combee is either precluded by Pokemon's gender-determination function, and the alternative of making Combee an all-female race and having only, say, 1/8 of all Combee evolve is precluded by raw annoyance to the player).
      • You know how only one head of a female Combee actually has the red dot that indicates it's a female? When it evolves into Vespiquen, a badass-looking queen bee with one head, the other two heads disappear. Additionally, Vespiquen has three signature moves—Attack Order, Defend Order, and Heal Order -- that all involve ordering its minions to attack the enemy, defend it, or heal it, respectively. Think about where the minions have to come from for a second (The pokedex helps with this—Vespiquen's bottom is a nursery for its grubs), then think about where the other two likely male Combee heads went once your level 21 Combee evolved. Take your time.
      • Finally, Vespiquen, the queen bee, is slower than Combee, the worker bee, and it's pretty slow for a Pokemon itself.
  • 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.
    • The latter is actually a recent retcon. He wasn't considered a child when he debuted in Chaotix.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Inferno in Beast Wars 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.
    • It's worth mentioning that his programming is severely influenced by his beast form, and that he suffers from some glitches that may have been introduced as a protoform. Basically, he's nuts.
    • In a later episode Inferno also calls Rampage a 'drone'. In its normal useage, that's fine. Taking his delusions into account, this implies that Inferno thinks the giant Ax Crazy crab should be mating with Megatron.
      • Oh god, add in the stereotype of a bickering couple, and how frequently they're arguing, but with Megatron always winning (due to spark squeeze box), and the presumed annoyance a drone might have with it's station in life.... and it all makes terible, awesome sense...
    • In fact, it has been pointed out that all of the arthropodic Predacons have female Beast Modes, despite the fact that all but one (Blackarachnia) of them have male personalities. Possibly this is because it's generally the female arthropods that are more physically dangerous, which made their forms more suitable for use as Beast Modes. In addition, none of the Transformers really comment on the sexes of any of their alt modes.
      • Tigatron refers to his tiger companion as female after she's killed by crossfire. Since this tiger was presumably the one his pod scanned, it implies his beast mode is female.
      • Not necessarily; since his awakening/protoform scan and the death of his female companion occurred in separate episodes, it's entirely possible his form was scanned from a male and he acquired the female companion later.
    • And Waspinator is a male Predacon whose wasp mode contains a stinger.
  • In the Bitsy Bears pilot cartoon, the Bitsy Bears create a fake "bee king" to trick Bramble into releasing the beenapped 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. It wouldn't have been any harder for the writers to get it RIGHT by creating a young female worker being instructed by the queen and a worker aunt or older sister. (Depiction of an alternative family in a children's show? MADNESS.)
  • Averted in The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That! where all of the ants, bees, and wasps appear to be female.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Fake Science mocked it, too presents a study of bees by Swedish scientists!

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Early beekeepers assumed that queen bees were male, and called them kings, until it was discovered that the "king" was the one laying all the eggs.
  • 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.
  • Played straight with termites.