• caste;
  • evolution;
  • parasitoid;
  • sociality;
  • soldier


Soldier-producing polyembryonic waSPS are the only social animals that develop as parasites inside the bodies of other insects. Characterizing the kin composition of broods is central to understanding the evolution of the soldier caste in these unique social insects. Here we studied the role of soldiers in mediating the outcome of competition among clones of the polyembryonic wasp Copidosoma floridanum. Soldier-producing female clones usually monopolized host resources, whereas soldierless male clones usually coexisted in hosts. Behavioural experiments further indicated that early-emerging soldiers are specialized to combat intraspecific competitors and later-emerging soldiers are specialized for defence against interspecific competitors. Taken together, our results point to intraspecific competition as a major selective force in the evolution of the soldier caste. Our data also present an evolutionary conundrum: given the benefit of soldiers, why are male clones functionally soldierless?