Sawflies, Wasps, Bees and Ants - Order Hymenoptera

This page contains pictures and information for Sawflies, Wasps Ants and Bees that we found in the Brisbane area, Queensland, Australia.
A Wasp and a Bee 
The insect order Hymenoptera includes sawflies, wasps, bees and ants. The name Hymenoptera means 'membrane wings'. Their adults have two pair of membranous wings with the forewings lager than the hind wings. The main defining characteristic of Hymenoptera is that the front and hind wings are held together by a series of little hooks called hamuli.
DSC_5760.jpg (149570 bytes)
The female insects have strings to inject venom to their enemy where the string is their modified ovipositor. Most insects in this order have a waist that separates the thorax and abdomen. On their head they have two large compound eyes and mandibulate mouthparts. Their antenna is medium in length and usually strongly elbowed.
Most larvae in this order are maggot-like and with no legs. However, the Sawflies larvae look like caterpillars and sometimes mistaken as butterflies or moths larvae. The insects in this order developed in complete metamorphosis.

Classification : 

There are two suborders of Hymenoptera, the Symphyta (sawflies) and the Apocryta (wasps, bees and ants).. 

Suborder Symphyta - Sawflies

Their adults look similar to wasps except they do not have the 'waist'. Sawflies do not sting. They do not form the social organization like bees and ants, but their larvae stay together for the defence. The female have their special egg-laying tool, like a saw, to cut through leaf tissue for their eggs. Sawflies are feed on nectar. Sawfly larvae are often caterpillar-like with five or more abdominal prolegs

Suborder Apocrita- Wasps, Bees and Ants

The suborder Apocryta are far more diverse than Symphyta and include all the wasps, bees and ants. All of them have one common characteristic - their waist in the middle of their body. Larvae are maggot-like and with no legs. 

Some of the members in this suborder are social insects, including some wasps, bees and ants. They live in a highly organized group and each members are divided into castes. Different castes perform different functions in the group. It is believed that their special genetic configuration (haploid-diploid sex determination) leads to their social behaviour. The social behaviour evolved independently three times (wasps, bees and ants) or even more in this insect order.

Besides the social behaviour, there are other behaviors that only found in this order, include the precise navigation skill and the communication capacity. All the bees, wasps and ants can return to their nest after traveling kilo-meters away. When they find the food source, they can tell the others where to go.  

Bees and Wasps sometimes look similar. The main difference between bees and wasps is that Bees feed their larvae on honey, which is a mixture of pollen and nectar, whereas wasps feed their larvae on meat, mostly paralysed arthropods. 

Parasite Wasps
Parasitic Wasps are the largest group in Hymenoptera. Because of their parasitic habit, most of them are still unknown. Their larvae are either parasitic or predators. The female wasp usually locates the food plants of the host then searches with her antennae for a suitable host.
Braconid Wasps
Vespoid Wasps
Wasps feed on nectar and they visit flowers. They are active day time. Besides visiting flowers, they spend most of their time searching for host to parasite or prey for their larvae. The ovipositors in most wasps are modified into stingers. They will sting if disturbed.
Ants live in colonies made up of several castes. They included the winged male, winged female and wingless workers. They all have waist. It is composed of one or two knobs which are the first one or two segment of their abdomen. Their antennae have a distinct elbow. 
DSC_1756.jpg (154063 bytes)Apoid Wasps
Species in these two families, Sphecidae and Crabronidae, are solitary hunting wasps.  Female wasp makes nest in soil or build mud cells for her young. She paralyses host arthropod, usually other insects or spiders, by her sting. The sting is a modified ovipositor which injects venom paralyses but not kill the host.
Most bees live as individual, although the famous Honey Bees are social insects. The solitary bees live in burrow under ground or in tree stems. In their nests, there are chambers for their larvae, beside there are the storage for the nectar and pollen.

Questions for Discussion

Evolution - from Sawfly to Ant

Ants is considered the highest form in insects evolution. They evolved the highly structured society. They have their powerful strings. They do not have many predators. They seem dominate in the insect class. They are quite different from others insects. However, if we learn more about Sawfly and wasp, we can see the evolution track from Sawfly to Ants. 

It is believe that the ancestor of hymenopterans, i.e., wasp, ants etc.,  look like the Sawflies today. We can find the special features in wasps and ants, the early images are still retained in Sawflies. 

How they got their strings?
Sawflies are closely related to wasps. They got their name because the have their special egg-laying tool, like a saw, to cut through leaf tissue for their eggs. Their adults look similar to wasps except they do not have the 'waist'. Although sawflies do not sting, they use their ovipositors to cut open the surface of the leave to lay and insert their eggs inside. It is not hard to imagine how they accidentally turn their ovipositors to their enemy and become their weapon. By natural selection, their ovipositors become their strings. 
How they become the hard working parents?
Although Sawflies do not supply food to their young, they guard them until they hatch. The female sawfly will stay near the eggs and watch her baby come out. Then usually she will die. But if some of the sawflies accidentally have a habit that she brings some food to her baby, and those food are accepted by her baby larva, it is a very good habit and natural selection will quit likely select this. The larvae will have a much better chance to live and become  adults. Some of  them will quite likely inherited the 'bring food to larvae' character. This group of sawflies will become more in number. The 'bring food to larvae' character will be enhance by evolution. After a long time, this character diverged and become the different form of parental care that we can see in wasp, ants and bees.     
How they build their society? 
There are quite a number of different theories that explain why some of the hymenopterans are social insects. There is one or a few individuals who lay eggs, most others are workers and help to look after the young. It is general accepted that the major reason is the genetic structure of  hymenopterans so the the kinship of sisters are even higher than mother and child. However I can see there is another factor, may be it is not as important as the kinship theory, but could be important in the beginning of the hymenopterans society evolution. We can see this from the sawfly. The larvae of sawflies, unlike more other caterpillars of moths and butterflies, are always stay together when at rest. If so happen that they stay together in a nest even after some of them become pupa. Some of them become adults. Adults lay more eggs in the nest. Adults bring foods to the nest. Now you can see the primary form of the society has just formed.
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Last updated: August 20, 2012.