Posts Tagged ‘Combee’


Biology of Group Pokémon

July 23, 2012

My previous Pokémon post got be thinking philosophically about Pokémon. I jested last time about Combee being three different bees stuck together, when in reality one Combee is the set together because the two top bees are not sentient beings, and if you were to split them apart, you would not get three whole bees. Though this idea of Combee having three faces, yet only one brain is incredibly strange, I will dedicate that discussion topic to a future post, as it fascinates me.

But today, I want to  discuss this strange set of Pokémon that are groups of Pokémon, something the writers did many times.


Dugtrio evolves from Diglett. But strangely, this is a case where all Dugtrio really is, is three Digletts stuck together. I quote, “a team of Diglett triplets….” though later on they mix it up slightly by saying, “Dugtrio are actually triplets, emerging from one body…” either way the fan art really did get interesting for this one.


Another fusion like Dugtrio, Magneton are just three Magnemite that are stuck together. Presumably, they are attached as a result of magnetic forces. Magneton does evolve, into Magnezone. Though this Pokemon looks very different, implying that each Magnemite then differentiates to serve different roles so that the final form can more efficiently get things done.


Metagross, though it is hard to see it, is actually 2 Metang stuck together, and Metang is actually 2 Beldum stuck together. So 1 metagross is actually 4 Beldum.


As the name suggests, this is a nose Pokemon. Probopass is the evolved form of Nosepass and is just a much larger amd mustachio-ed version of Nosepass. But, Probopass also has attached to it two Nosepass. These nosepass can actually detach and be live creatures. So the question really is, does probopass asexually reproduce by budding, thus once the Nosepass leave, another can be born in that spot, or are these Nosepass born by other means, and then just choose to attach themselves to a nearby Probopass upon evolution, much like Magneton and Dugtrio? To investigate this we could easily do some DNA testing of the Nosepass and Probopass to see if they are genetically identical.


I’m not sure if this one counts. Weezing is said to be two Koffing attached together, but their appearance does change a bit including size and coloration. Weezing is a really unsavory and useless Pokémon, so let’s just not discuss this further.


Sort of like Combee, Exeggcute is not 6 pokemon stuck together, but rather it is the initial Pokemon, and justconsists of 6 different heads that each express a different emotion. Strangely seeds are not attached in any way, so I wonder what would happen yet they separated…


Similar to Exeggcute, Klink is two faced objects stuck together, but it seems unlikely they are supposed to both be sentient. I’m not even really sure if the two bodies can be separated even. I don’t think this one really counts, but it sort of belongs in the Combee Exeggcute family.


The question I have about Dugtrio and Magneton is if they really are three Diglett stuck together or three magnemite stuck together, they should have then exactly three times the power of a single Diglett or a single magnemite. So for example, its hp, attack and special attack should all triple in the evolution if there are three working together. Actually, you would really expect all of the stats to go up with the exception of speed, which should stay the same or decrease. Yet for the most part, though they do gain some obvious strength and advantages, they are not 3 times as strong. That means this union has negative cooperativity, or in other words, by coming together they lose some powered potential power.

This is me sort of using a term strangely. Negative cooperativity in biology usually refers to when an enzyme binds a substrate, which then makes that enzyme somewhat less able to bind another substrate. So the first thing makes it harder for the second thing. Positive cooperativity also exists, and that just means if an enzyme binds a substrate, the enzyme becomes more able to bind another substrate. If I were to continue this analogy, it would be like if one Diglett had a base attack power of 55, the Dugtrio, with powers combined and helping each other, having a power of 200 instead of 55*3=165. But instead they are incredibly negative in cooperativity, so their attack power together is only 80.
But the whole idea of a single Pokémon being many sentient beings grouped together is so strange. I mean, a single Vespiquen is thousands of organisms! In real life, we would never refer to a beehive as a single being. And even if we had a conjoined twin situation, we would still refer to them as two different beings. Yet in Pokémon, we can have different sentient beings in a little group, and we refer to it as one.
Although, the idea of what an organism is might actually be hard to determine biologically. First of all, humans are a huge collection of cells. In evolution, multicellularity evolved a few times. Groups of cells living together decided to start dedicating certain groups of cells to specific jobs, in spite of having the same exact genes. One of the major cell types usually determined are the germ cells for preservation of a complete intact genome, and naturally the somatic cells, which are all the other non-germ cells. For example, the first animals were sponges, which are really incredibly complex and massive colonies of cells that have a few different cell types for feeding, signal transduction, and of course, reproduction.
Secondly, in most animals, we contain tons of cells that aren’t ours per se. We have so much bacteria inside us that are crucial for our digestion, and something and something. Microbiology has made huge advancements into understanding how our gut bacteria contribute to our physiology, and there is still an unbelievable amount of work to be done. But to refer to a human and not include his or her bacteria would be just wrong. They are such an essential part of us that we can’t ignore.
Lastly, even organisms we consider to be single celled organisms show multicellular characteristics. A few labs study how bacteria can form incredibly complex colonies as well as how bacteria can talk to each other.

Colonies of cells. Even “single celled organisms” can show incredibly multicellular characteristics. Courtesy of

So who am I to say a group of sentient beings referred to as one Pokemon is strange. We are all groups of organisms all working together to survive. And to a certain extent, isn’t that what society is? Not one of us can easily do all of the things needed for survival, like grow food, prepare it, protect ourselves, shelter ourselves, etc. Ancient animals realized a long time ago that by living in societies and giving certain people certain tasks, we could accomplish much more. Thus we have a positive cooperativity, or we all gain something by working together. So maybe that’s whats the true error with these group Pokemon. By forming the group, they should actually become much stronger than the sum of the parts.

Biology of Bug-Type Pokémon II (Combee)

July 16, 2012

In my last Pokémon related post, I discussed some of the cool things the Pokémon creators did with the bug-types. Though there were flaws, they really did do a good job of including some real ecology and biology, and it made for a great educational tool for me to discuss butterfly and moth life cycles.

Now I want to discuss one of my favorite organisms on the planet, and Pokémon’s attempt to do it justice.


A strange Pokémon nonetheless, it starts out as three bee-like organisms inside their honeycomb, flying around as a unit. The interesting thing about this Pokémon is that it has an incredibly skewed gender ratio: 87.5 percent of Combees are male while 12.5% are female. But the reason why most people catch a ton of these Pokémon are to get that elusive female Combee, because only female Combees can evolve into the incredibly powerful Vespiquen (which I think was supposed to be Vespiqueen, but they ran out of letters?)

Vespiquen is a strange Pokémon in that it is not only supposed to signify the queen bee of the hive, but the Pokémon is the hive itself. This sort of makes sense when you think about Combee being the three bees and the combs they live in; so it is natural to assume when they evolve they would also evolve those three little combs into a hive. The truly strange thing about Vespiquen is that she is not only the queen and the hive, but Combees actually live inside her. So to have a Vespiquen is to have thousands of Combee as well.

For fun.

As an aside, I’ve been thinking about how this evolution could work. If you dissociate the Combee into three little bees, then each bee has a probability of being a female Combee with the potential of becoming a Vespiquen. So in reality, your 12.5% chance of catching a female Combee is aided by the fact that you get to technically catch three little bees at a time. So the real female Combee percentage in the population is more like 4.16%. But if only one of the three little bees in the Combee are required to evolve into a Vespiquen, then it is natural to ask what happens to the other two bees? It is safe to assume I guess that they just join the hive inside their friend Vespiquen.

This is all incorrect of course because one Combee is the three little bees all together. Only the bottom bee has an abdomen and the top two bees have 1 wing each coming out of the comb. The bottom bee is supposed to be the thinker, and is the only bee that has a designation signifying if it is female (a red jewel.) But it was fun to do a little math.

Understanding words.

So the name Combee is clear: they just stuck together the words comb and bee to get the Pokemon’s name. By using bee, they naturally want you to assume this is supposed to be some kind of honeybee Pokemon, so most likely based on the Apis mellifera species. Additionally, the Combee’s ability in the game is called Honey Gather, which makes it possible for the Pokemon to sometimes collect honey at the end of a battle, a seriously strange ability. And using the word comb makes sense because this Pokemon includes the hexagonal homes bees live in.

Vespiquen on the other hand comes from the Latin vespi, meaning wasp, and queen. So this would imply that this is not a bee evolutionary line but rather a wasp evolutionary line. This could not be the the case for many reasons, but mostly because in Japanese this Pokemon is called beequeen. In other words, they were clearly going for the queen bee but that got lost in translation (though in English Vespiquen does sound much cooler.)

Compared to Honeybees.

The writers attempt to bring some real honeybee biology to the game of Pokémon was a solid try, but unfortunately lacked nuances that I understand they could not include. But the resulting Combee is actually much more incorrect than if they had ignored biology all together and just stuck to something simple, like Beedrill, which Combee is supposed to be a distant relative of…

Honeybees are actually not gender skewed towards males. In a typical hive there is one queen bee, several thousand worker bees, and a dozen or so drones.

The Queens and Workers.

Queen bees are fertile females that are raised on a specific diet of a special honey made by workers called royal jelly. Inside royal jelly is a special protein called Royalactin that induces special epigenetics changes (or changes in gene expression not the genes themselves). Hives usually only have one queen, and the queen’s job is to lay all the eggs for the hive. She lives the longest of all the bees (3-4 years) and is physically the largest in size, a result of the different diet.

The worker bees are sterile females. They are actually genetically no different than the queen other than the fact that they were not fed royal jelly as a larvae, which led them to a life of sterility. (Actually, as larvae, they are fed royal jelly, but only for a short time early on, and then get switched to a regular honey diet.) The workers are the ones that do all the work in the hive: they forage for nectar, they make honey and royal jelly, they protect the hive, they build the hive, and they care for the young.

When a queen dies in the hive, the hive is instantly put into a mode of panic. As eggs, the future queen and future workers are the same, so surviving workers will instantly sequester the most recently larvae to emerge so that it can be specially taken care of. All larvae are fed royal jelly, but this special larvae will basically be put into a bath of royal jelly for the rest of her development.


The final type of bee is the drone. Drones are the result of unfertilized eggs laid by the queen, a really crazy idea considering most animals lay many many eggs that don’t get fertilized. Could you imagine if every egg from a woman’s menstrual cycle led to a baby? That would be crazy! But this means that drones are haploid: they only have one copy of each of their chromosomes. This is because eggs are start out haploid waiting for a sperm to fertilize it and make it diploid. Thus, queens and workers are diploid, or have two copies of each chromosome.

It is important to note that most metazoan organisms, including humans, are diploid, which is advantageous because if one copy of a gene on one chromosome is bad, they can get a good copy from the other chromosome. This is the basis for all the genetic inheritance stuff we learn in school because we get one set of chromosomes from our mother and the other from our father, so if dad has a recessive disorder, we will definitely get that bad gene from him, but as long as mom doesn’t have the disorder, thus having a dominant gene, we have a chance of being fine. This is also what gives us the high genetic variability that keeps us evolutionarily poised for any obstacle.

Drones are the pseudomales of the species. They mate with the queen, and they produce sperm. But because the drones are haploid, every single haploid sperm they produce are exactly the same genetically, unlike humans where our sperm are all different because we are diploid so the sperm we make only have half of our genetic information, so variation is rampant.

The duty of the drone is to mate with the queen. Typically, a hive will have a few dozen drones, and the queen will mate with 10 or so of them. She only needs to mate with them once because she, like many insects, has a special organ called a spermatheca that stores sperm in her body.

Once the drone mates with queen, he dies. Actually, the force required for him to ejaculate is so strong, it kills him. Many drones don’t even get to mate with the queen, and they are generally left to die in the winter, because they are not allowed to stay in the hive, and they lack the ability to forage on their own. So they either get to mate and die violently, or starve.

Unfortunately though, because drones are born haploid, they encounter even more hardships. If they do inherit some bad gene, they either don’t live, or they aren’t able to mate. The advantage here though is that the hive can suddenly very rapidly select against genes they may not want. Actually honeybee genetics are incredibly complicated, and I get confused by it. I can’t figure out how much of an advantage they really have…

Compared to Combee

In real life then, the hive is actually 99.99% female, with 99.99% of them being sterile females. And the 0.01% that is kind of male isn’t actually even male! But in Pokémon, 87.5% of Combees are male and 12.5% are female, with only the female being able to evolve into a queen. This was their attempt to show that only a very small number of bees can turn into a queen. By making the gender ratios so different, they do accomplish this, but they get the biology wrong. But it would have been hard for the creators of the game to really explain the epigenetics and dietary needs that would be required to make the genetically female Combee larvae differentiate into either a sterile female worker or a fertile queen. What the writers did instead was treat the workers like the males, and thus make the potential queen the rare female, and thus ignore the drones all together (which is what happens in real life sadly for the drones).

But if they wanted to make it truly like biology, they actually could have made it work, especially with how complicated the world of Pokémon is. Instead of using gender ratios, which are incorrect biologically because most bees are female, they could have instead made Combee evolve as a result some other evolutionary mechanic the games use for many of the other Pokémon. For example they could have had it evolve when traded while holding the item “Royal Jelly” that you have to collect from other Combee. Or they could have Combee evolve only after it has high friendship with the trainer, like you do with Togepi, Budew, and countless others. But if they really wanted the biology to match the Pokémon, then 100% of the Combee would be female, and to get a Vespiquen you would need to do something special.