One thing you can tell simply by looking at them is that wasps and bees are closely related. However, new research shows that not only are these species related, they are also related to ants. This is a surprising result, given the morphology of bees, wasps and ants, which look very different from each other. However, it seems that behavior plays a much larger role in this relationship than morphology.
Using bioinformatics and genome sequencing, a team of researchers was able to develop a new understanding of the evolutionary tree of these insects. Bees, stinging wasps and ants all belong to the stinging Hymenoptera clade family, which is a group that has developed social behavior extensively.
More specifically, ants, bees and spheciform wasps are closely related. Spheciform wasps are part of the group which includes the largest number of wasp species there is. They can range from predatory to parasitic, and females will build nests in which they will enclose prey with their offspring. The type of the nest will vary by species, with some building mud nests in which they trap spiders, while others will tunnel into decay wood, where they will feed aphids to their young. The wasps themselves can range in size from a few millimeters to over an inch. The cicada killer is an example of a spheciform wasp.
Bees are an offshoot of the spheciform evolutionary branch, but instead of eating other insects, they feed on pollen, making them vegetarian spheciforms. They also have other adaptations that set them apart from other members of the group, including colony-building behavior and branched body hairs that help them collect pollen.
What’s even more interesting is that the wasps we are familiar with, such as yellow jackets, hornets and paper wasps are not spheciform, but vespid. This actually means that ants and bees are more closely related to each other than they are to the wasps that we consider pests.
It’s interesting to see how certain species have evolved from common ancestors when we would have never expected it. For example, elephants are closely related to a mouse-like species in western Africa. By exploring these branches we can find new insights into how the natural world as we know it today came to be and better understand where it is going to be in the future. For now though, we have to deal with wasps and ants as what they are – pests. Contact us today if you have a wasp or ant infestation on your property and you need it taken care of.