I know it’s fruitless to compare the mating practices of humans—with our highly evolved means of communication (texting), sophisticated forms of romance (get ‘er drunk!), and refined ability to rise above the lustful urges of the loin (porno mags)—to the mating practices of others in the animal kingdom, but I just had to. After all, the dreaded parental talk is supposed to be about “the birds and the bees,” but why? Yes, we’re all programmed to procreate, but what can we humans possibly learn from sparrows and bumblers.
As it turns out, quite a bit. After a brief flip through my high school biology book, I realized there is a wonderfully seedy underbelly to the seemingly sterile insect world. And the hot and heavy pulsating action isn’t just reserved for insects and animals, but plants take part as well. Between the orchids and the honeybees, the basics (and then some) are covered. I’m talking threesomes, gender roles, sperm banking, S&M, transvestites, and getting a date drunk so you can have your way. That’s a lot for six legs and a couple of petals.
For instance, as a young girl, I was often troubled that the boys got called on more in class, ruled the playground, and made up a greater proportion of the Fortune 500 CEOs. Young female bees feel my pain. From birth, gender inequalities are clear, as male “drones” have distinct advantages over female “workers.” The boys basically get to lounge around the house (hive), while females are busy securing food and taking care of the little lads. The boys’ main goal in life is to lay the Queen, drink honey, and drop clumps of pollen so that they can watch the worker bees bend over to pick them up. Females are much more productive and are out the door after day one so they can provide food and shelter for their busy household.
But under times of stress, it becomes clear who is really in charge. If there’s a food shortage or bad weather, the ladies, who dominate the hive, kick the little ninnies out on their butts for future, certain peril. Ultimately, women are in charge, no matter what the guys think. If only I had known that in second grade.
Then there is the Queen bee, who has many valuable lessons to teach. From birth, she is fed sweeter food while young and therefore grows larger. When she has reached her voluptuous capacity, she goes on mating “flights.” Not unlike a promiscuous early bloomer, she will mate with ten or more males. Even more worthy of envy, she is able to store the sperm for three years, her approximate lifespan. Never with one mate and always with many, she understands—years before her eggs dry up—the utility of sperm banking.
But then comes the real Queen of all lessons. Males that mate with the Queen get their reproductive parts ripped out of them and eventually die. At first, this seems like the ultimate fucking victory. But once you realize that no more reproductive parts means no more sex, it really takes the excitement out of it. The queen, with her zest for young blood, forgot a very important rule: when you’re a woman of sophistication and wisdom (meaning you’re old), never hump a virgin. You may break more than his poor little heart.
Her unfortunate mating scenario also teaches a valuable lesson about rough sex: S&M always sounds like fun, no matter what your species, but when you play roughhouse with reproductive parts, something is likely to get hurt. (Remember Lorenna Bobbitt?)
Though the sex lives of bees are interesting, the lascivious interactions between bee and plant is where the real action lies. Flowers, after all, evolved with one main throbbing question: how can I get the sperm in my long pollen-laden stamen to her awaiting sticky pistol?
Like an older couple out for a swinging night on the town, plants have lured hopeless little creatures into their drug-infused love triangles to do just that. Insects, birds, and bats are just pawns in the floral world of pollen meets ovary.
This lesson is most painfully learned from the bucket orchid, which produces a potent intoxicating nectar to get the bee drunk. As the bee falls into the slippery slope of the blossom, it’s only way out is through a small opening in the base of the flower. As it squeezes through this channel, it picks up pollen, which it drunkenly drops off when it stumbles into the next flowers stigma. In this threesome, I am not sure if the bee serves as a fluffer—prepping the couple for their sexual tryst—or a donkey, carting necessary goods from one blossom to the next; but the lesson is clear: when you’re drunk with a couple of strangers, you’re likely to do just about anything. And in the end, they get fertilized and buzzed and all you get is a cheap, nectar hangover. Was it really worth it?
Another lesson the orchids have for us humans—one I have seen played out many times on the streets of Bangkok—is not to judge a girl by her cover. One species of orchid sexually arouses male insects by mimicking the smell, touch, color, and/or appearance of female insects. If you’ve ever sauntered around late night on Khoa San Road or in certain parts of San Francisco, you know exactly how this type of mimicry is executed. It can be hard to tell who’s a woman and who’s done a really good job with their make-up. It’s all good fun until guys, like the male insects, try to do it with the fake female. The scientists call this pseudocopulation attraction device; I call it beer goggles. Let’s just hope they’re thick.
After reading two pages of my biology book, it’s clear that although the bees and flowers have many lessons for us humans and should still be incorporated into the parental talk, I’m not sure they have it all. I mean, there’s nary a mention of goose on goose or gander on gander action, adultery, or even doggy-style. That doesn’t get covered until Chapter Five: Birds and Mammals.
Photo Courtesy of Brie Cadman