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A first: Solitary bees serve as stepdads


Male solitary bees (Ceratina nigrolabiata) who babysit larva are often not their dads: They act as a living door, letting only the female in, not ants:

When mom buzzes back with food, she scratches against the male’s rump, and he moves to allow her into the nest. Then he goes back to being a dad door, or rather, a stepdad door. In 265 nests sampled, only 29 percent of the babysitting males had fathered even one offspring that they were guarding, Mikát and colleagues report the week of March 11 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Susan Milius, “The first male bees spotted babysitting are mostly stepdads” at Science News

Those bees don’t sound like selfish gene-iuses. The explanation offered is that these stepdads are hanging around to mate with female offspring:

In terms of evolution, care for the offspring arises as a “side effect” of males looking to mate with a female while guarding her against rivals, Mikát says. Susan Milius, “The first male bees spotted babysitting are mostly stepdads” at Science News


Sure, but note how the story has changed and gotten more complex. We are told, “This babysitting report is a first for bees,” by a researcher not involved in the study.

If this report is a first, we might want to go a bit light on the traditional Darwinism while more bees are researched. If people used to think males wouldn’t do this, they will realize that one can be mistaken; those who rush in with an easy traditional answer might be too.

One question comes to mind: For the males, competing for females who are present is cognitively easy. But how do they know about the females who are still larvae? Can they smell them? If not, the behavior seems to require a foresight that is beyond the known cognitive powers of the bee.

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See also: Replication failures of Darwinian sexual selection openly discussed at The Scientist

New book challenges sexual selection theory in evolution


Can sex explain evolution?


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