Ants More Closely Related to Bees Than Wasps: Insect Evolution Uncovered

First Posted: Oct 09, 2013 08:17 AM EDT

It turns out that ants have some unusual cousins. These insects are more closely related to bees than they are to social wasps such as yellow jackets and paper wasps. The findings reveal a little bit more about evolutionary relationships and show that these creatures have more in common than we might first have thought.

"Despite great interest in the ecology and behavior of these insects, their evolutionary relationships have never been fully clarified," said Phil Ward, one of the researchers, in a news release. "In particular, it has been uncertain how ants--the world's most successful social insects--are related to bees and wasps."

Ants, bees and stinging wasps all belong to the aculeate (stinging) Hymenoptera clade. This insect group consists of species with social behaviors that are extensively developed. This, in particular, has intrigued researchers and has made them want to learn a little bit more about how exactly these insects are related.

In order to find that out, the scientists used genome sequencing and bioformatics. More specifically, the researchers combined data from the transcriptome, showing which genes are active and being transcribed from DNA into RNA, and genomic data from a number of species of ants, bees and wasps. This allowed them to better understand the evolutionary tree of these insects and provided a new framework for understanding the nesting, feeding and social behavior in Hymenoptera.

"With a phylogeny or evolutionary progression that we think is reliable and robust, we can no start to understand how various morphological and/or behavioral traits evolved in these groups of insects, and even examine the genetic basis of these phenotypic changes," said Joanna Chiu, one of the researchers, in a news release.

The findings should help researchers better understand the evolutionary history of ants. Or particular interest was the finding that ants are a sister group to the Apoidea, a major group that includes bees and phecid wasps. This could allow scientists to further develop evolutionary trees.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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