Just what is an ovipositor?


Internet users know what they want and today, when they're not searching for info on celebrities and magazines about celebrities, they're doing Internet searches for "ovipositors."

What's an ovipositor? The simple answer is that it's an egg-laying organ generally located on the tail end of an insect's abdomen. But ovipositors are far more than mere insect reproductive organs. Ovipositors have evolved to keep pace with the needs of their owners to place eggs in ever-more-secure or beneficial locations. For this reason, cicadas and grasshoppers developed spiked ovipositors to better deposit their young in the ground or in the stems of plants.

Wasps took this concept even further, as their ovipositors are tailor-made to pierce the carapaces of other living creatures, thus laying their precious offspring inside their first meal. They even evolved to offer a venomous punch, so as to subdue their victim for this brutal surgery.

Of course, we tend to call such ovipositors "stingers." This is why only female bees and wasps can dish out any pain. While bees long ago traded laying eggs inside enemy larva for the wonders of their honey-filled hives, their stingers still pack a serious punch.

(On a similar note, I posted a few weeks ago about scary beetle genital adaption. Man, it's a virtual evolutionary arms race when it comes to bugs' privates, isn't it?)

Learn more about ovipositors at HowStuffWorks.com: How Bees Work How Butterflies Work How Houseflies Work How Wasps Work


About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.