1. Many insects reproduce by parthenogenesis. In one of the largest orders of the animal kingdom, the Hymenoptera, most of its members reproduce by arrhenotokous parthenogenesis. Egg activation in parthenogenetic animals obviously cannot be caused by fertilization of the egg. The question of what initiates egg development in parthenogenetically reproducing animals has been studied for a few insect species and is discussed in this article.
2. The grasshopper Melanoplus differentialis is one of several Orthoptera displaying accidental parthenogenesis. In this species, egg laying provides the stimulus to the completion of meiosis and start of embryonic development in unfertilized and probably also in fertilized eggs. The same holds true for the dipteran insect Drosophila melanogaster which exhibits rudimentary parthenogenesis, and for D. mercatorum showing accidental parthenogenesis. The precise way in which oviposition affects the egg is unknown.
3. The stick insect Carausius morosus reproduces by obligatory thelytoky. The triggering factor for removal of the meiotic block and initiation of embryonic development is oxygen from the air which penetrates to the egg through the micropyle immediately after oviposition. The oviposition act itself is not necessary for activation of the egg.
4. Comparative studies of the different types of oogenesis in the dipteran insect Heteropeza pygmaea show that in paedogenetically developing follicles meiotic arrest in prophase is of very short duration and a meiotic block at the end of oogenesis is absent. It is suggested that in this case triggering events for egg development are dispensable. On the other hand, under certain experimental conditions a meiotic block can be established in some of these follicles.
5. Investigations on the Ichneumonid wasp Pimpla turionellae have shown that unfertilized, male-determined eggs - and most likely also fertilized, femaledetermined eggs - are activated by mechanical stress exerted on the eggs during natural or imitated oviposition. This mechanical stress, in addition, activates a streaming system which is independent of meiotic completion and nuclear multiplication. Egg activation by egg distortion is also found in the Pteromalid species Nasonia vitripennis and occurs presumably in many other Hymenoptera.
6. Carausius morosus, Pimpla turionellae and Nasonia vitripennis are species with parthenogenetic reproduction for which the natural factors responsible for the initiation of egg development have been identified. The cases of Pimpla turionellae and Nasonia vitripennis are of particular interest because of the feasibility of artificially imitating the natural activating mechanism.
7. It is concluded that apart from fertilization various events at oviposition may trigger egg development. In addition, the occurrence of rudimentary parthenogenesis in many sexually reproducing animal species suggests that sperm entry and fertilization may frequently be necessary for the continuation of egg development rather than for its initiation.