Parasites show an amazing repertoire of adaptations, highlighted by complex life cycles that allow both survival in the host and transmission among hosts. However, there is one heterogeneous group of microorganisms whose adaptations are perhaps even more surprising: parthenogenesis induction, feminization of genetic males, killing of male hosts and sperm-mediated sterilization of uninfected eggs. The common feature of these microorganisms is their mode of transmission: inheritance from mother to offspring. Here, we present an introduction to hereditary symbiosis, focusing on microsporidia and bacteria that manipulate host reproduction in arthropods (reproductive parasites). We also discuss the implications of one of these microorganisms, Wolbachia, for the control of arthropod pests and vectors and for the therapy of filarial diseases. Finally, we discuss whether some parasites of vertebrates might show sex-specific virulence.