Taxonomy

Worldwide there are 115,000 described species in the order Hymenoptera, but systematists estimate that there may be an additional 200,000 undescribed species. The Hymenoptera are divided into two major suborders: the Symphyta, or sawflies, which are plant feeders, and the Apocrita, which normally feed on other arthropods. In the Apocrita the abdomen is narrowly joined to the thorax ("wasp waist"), whereas in the Symphyta the abdomen and thorax are broadly joined. The Apoc-rita are further divided into the Terebrantia (Parasitica), which use their ovipositor for egg laying, and the Ac-uleata, which have the ovipositor modified as a sting. The 50,000—60,000 species of aculeates in the world are classified into eight superfamilies. The work by Goulet and Huber (1993) provides identification of all families of Hymenoptera. The most important groups that cause health-related problems are the Formicoidea, Vespoidea, and Apoidea.

The Formicoidea, or ants, are divided into 11 subfamilies (Holldobler and Wilson, 1990) (Table I). There are 8,800 described species of ants, although it is estimated that there may be as many as 16,000-20,000 species worldwide. Most ants possess a sting, the exceptions being members of the subfamilies Formicinae and Dolichoderinae. Many of those which lack stings squirt various caustic chemicals onto antagonists for defensive purposes. Excellent sources of information on the taxonomy and biology of this diverse group are Holldobler and Wilson (1990) and Bolton (1994).

Social wasps of the family Vespidae, represented by 860 species worldwide, are the most important stinging wasps. A few species, including some sphecid wasps (Sphecidae), velvet ants (Mutillidae), and spider wasps (Pompilidae), also occasionally cause stinging problems. A general reference of Hymenoptera (e.g., Gauld and Bolton, 1988; Goulet and Huber, 1993), supplemented with general textbooks on insects, should suffice for most readers wishing to identify solitary wasps to family or lower taxa. Most social vespids in North America are members of two subfamilies: Vespinae, the hornets and yellowjackets; and Polistinae, the paper wasps (Table II). The Vespinae include the hornets Provespa in Southeast Asia and Vespa in Europe and Asia, and the temperate yellowjackets Doliehovespula and Vespula of temperate regions. The Polistinae are further divided into four tribes: the Ropalidiini, mostly in the tropics of Africa and Asia; the Epiponini, mostly in tropical Asia, Africa, and South America; mischocyttarini, mostly in tropical America and the Polistini, including the cosmopolitan paper wasps, Polistes. Other social vespids in the subfamily Stenogas-trinae occur only in Southeast Asia and usually are not a significant stinging hazard (Akre and Reed, 1984).

Some taxonomists place all the bees, totaling more than 20,000 species, in a single family, Apidae. However, we have followed bee taxonomy as presented by Michener (1974), in which bees are regarded as members of the superfamily Apoidea, with nine families. Most of these families consist primarily of solitary or communal species that are rarely a stinging hazard to humans. Most of the stinging bees are social species in the family Apidae, such as the ubiquitous honey bees (^zj spp.) and bumble bees (Bombus spp.). Some species of sweat bees (Halietidae) and carpenter bees (Anthophoridae) are minor stinging threats. For further information on the phylogeny and classification of bees, see Roig-Alsina and Michener (1993), Alexander and Michener (1995), and Michener et ctl. (1994).

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