A molecular concept of caste in insect societies

Seirian Sumner, Emily Bell, Daisy Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
566 Downloads (Pure)


The term ‘caste’ is used to describe the division of reproductive labour that defines eusocial insect societies. The definition of ‘caste’ has been debated over the last 50 years, specifically with respect to the simplest insect societies; this raises the question of whether a simple categorisation of social behaviour by reproductive state alone is helpful. Gene-level analyses of behaviours of individuals in hymenopteran social insect societies now provide a new empirical base-line for defining caste and understanding the evolution and maintenance of a reproductive division of labour. We review this literature to identify a set of potential molecular signatures that, combined with behavioural, morphological and physiological data, help define caste more precisely; these signatures vary with the type of society, and are likely to be influenced by ecology, life-history, and stage in the colony cycle. We conclude that genomic approaches provide us with additional ways to help quantify and categorise caste, and behaviour in general.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)42-50
Number of pages9
JournalCurrent Opinion in Insect Science
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal/physiology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression
  • Hymenoptera/genetics
  • Phenotype
  • Reproduction/physiology
  • Social Behavior


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