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Ecology and Social Organisation of Wasps

  1. Emily Bell1,
  2. Seirian Sumner2

Published Online: 15 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023597



How to Cite

Bell, E. and Sumner, S. 2013. Ecology and Social Organisation of Wasps. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Institute of Zoology, London, UK

  2. 2

    University of Bristol, Bristol, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAR 2013


Understanding sociality is a general question in biology: it tells us how groups evolve and function, from cells to insect societies. The social wasps (Hymenoptera and Vespidae) display a wide range of diversity in their ecology and social organisation, providing insights into the origins of simple societies and the elaboration and maintenance of complex societies. Social wasps play an important role in our ecosystems and economies, for example, through their pollination and pest control services. Compared with other social insects (e.g. ants, termites and bees), the social wasps are understudied. Here the authors give a brief overview of the social wasps, their phylogenetic history, diversity in social organisation and explain how they offer important insights on the key innovations underpinning the evolution of sociality.

Key Concepts:

  • Wasps make up a huge group of social insects, yet only one-fifth of them exhibit social behaviour.

  • Social wasps are ideal and unique models for studying social evolution as they show the full spectrum of social organisation and behaviours.

  • Across the social spectrum, wasp species show a number of key innovations that have contributed to their success, including the transition to group living, the evolution of castes, policing and swarm founding.

  • The evolution of caste differentiation has led to mutual dependency between phenotypes within species, and this is likely to have facilitated increased social complexity.

  • Studying both proximate and ultimate factors of social evolution will allow us to better understand the mechanisms of social evolution in wasps and reduce confusion in the theory of sociobiology.


  • hymenoptera;
  • social wasps;
  • eusociality;
  • castes;
  • social evolution;
  • major transitions