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Wonderful World of Wasps

Exhibition Iziko South African Museum

(Life: Kingdom: Metazoa (animals); Phylum: Arthropoda; Class: Hexapoda; Order: Hymenoptera)

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Most wasps and bees are solitary. Solitary species provide their offspring with food provisions and sometimes a nest, but never have any direct contact with their young.

Ants and Honey bees have independently evolved social behaviour similar to the social Paper wasps. Although ants and bees are readily distinguished by the lay person, both groups are in fact derived wasps closely related to other wasp families.

Social behaviour has evolved independently at least 11 times in the order Hymenoptera, whereas in all other insects it has evolved only once (in the Terrmites). Social wasps and bees evolved from solitary species. There are 5 different levels of sociality (communal, quasisocial, semisocial, subsocial and eusocial) present across different bee and wasp families. These represent increasing levels of co-operation between individuals within the colony.

Paper wasps, Honey bees and ants form social colonies usually comprising a queen and many female workers that do not reproduce, but spend their lives defending the nest and looking after and raising their sisters. Although colonies are long lived, reproductive males and females are produced at regular intervals to start new colonies. After mating the males die (ants and Paper wasps). In bees the males are present for a whole season before being evicted from the hive. The female stores sperm for fertilization of her eggs over a number of years. She is destined to become queen of a new colony.

Many social species have evolved potent venom, which they deliver via a stinging apparatus at the tip of their abdomen to defend their nest against predators.

Photograph Simon van Noort

Web author Simon van Noort (Iziko South African Museum)


Citation: van Noort, S. 2018. WaspWeb: Hymenoptera of the Afrotropical region. URL: www.waspweb.org (accessed on <day/month/year>).

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