On the island of Barro Colorado lives the genus of bees Megalopta, known for having individuals who are half male and half female.
This condition is the result of a phenomenon called gynandromorph, in which the insect is born with part of the body composed of feminine characteristics and the other part of masculine aspects.
The first discovery of a Megalopta gynandromorph occurred in 1999, when a team of scientists found an individual of the species M. genalis who had the condition. The animal has been studied extensively since then, but it was only at the end of February this year that another species of insect with the same condition was observed.
According to a study published in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, a group of students and scientists from the American Smithsonian Institute found a specimen of M. amoenae while observing the behavior of bees at night in Barro Colorado.
“It is impressive that, even though there has been a large sample of Megalopta at the Smithsonian Institute for almost 30 years, only two gynandromorphs have been found. This really shows the rarity of these creatures,” commented Erin Krichilsky, who participated in the research, in a statement.
As the researchers report, the left side of the specimen was male, with a long antenna, delicate jaw, and a thin, bare hind limb. Meanwhile, the right side was of the female type, with a shorter antenna, a robust toothed jaw to dig a nest and the lower limb with several hairs for transporting pollen .
Given the singularity of the discovery, the group decided to describe an aspect of their behavior that had not been previously studied in gynandromorphs: their circadian rhythm. This is the “biological clock” of the living being that tells the organism how to “time” its daily activities.
Examining this aspect in particular, the team found that the activities of the gynandromorph started earlier in the day, earlier than specimens that had characteristics of only one sex. Additionally, they realized that the period in which the animal was most active was the same as that of the observed females.
For the team, cases like these should continue to be studied to determine the frequency and distribution of gynandromorphs worldwide, but also because they can exhibit new behaviors and even new evolutionary possibilities. “Finding the M. amoena felt like striking gold or winning the Darwinian lottery,” said Krichilsky