If you look at species of bees and ants, you can clearly see there are drastically different specialized ants, like queen ants and workers. They're both part of the same species, yet are still obviously different. What is the proper name for that phenomena?

  • $\begingroup$ Just to clarify; you are asking specifically about non-taxonomic groupings right, e.g. functional or behavioural groups/phenotypes within species? $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 18:59
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Right, specifically the physical/behavioral differences within one species. $\endgroup$
    – John Joe
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ also allotype $\endgroup$
    – Phil Sweet
    Apr 3, 2018 at 22:32

1 Answer 1


In eusocial insects, especially ants and bees, these groups are called "castes" (see e.g. Hölldobler & Wilson, 1990. This is the same term that is used for social stratifications in some human societies e.g. in India.

One definition of caste is:

...the physical or the behavioural/physiological phenotype of a eusocial individual, or both.

(from Hölldobler & Wilson, see also antwiki.org)

Some division of labour as well as collective rearing of young can occur in prosocial animals as well, but there the term caste is not used.

  • $\begingroup$ Is it really just as simple as alleles which accounts for castes like honeypot ants? $\endgroup$
    – John Joe
    Apr 3, 2018 at 17:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnJoe In ants, the traditional view is that the worker-queen determination is largely due to nutrition/environment, but some studies also show a clear genetic component. Males/drones are determined by being haploid, so that is a separate issue. $\endgroup$ Apr 3, 2018 at 18:00
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    $\begingroup$ @JohnJoe Just to clarify, there is infinitely many possible ways to define sub-groups within species. The term "castes" is not a general term, it is a term that applies to the specific subgroups you describe in eusocial insects. For other types of subgroups different words may exist such as subspecies, subpopulation, family. One could decide to make any kind of arbitrary grouping such as considering the set of all individuals that went to the woodstock festival for example. There is of course no general term to refer to any kind of subgroup, other than just subgroup. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Apr 3, 2018 at 18:42
  • $\begingroup$ The difference here is that these individual castes have the capacity to reproduce as part of the same species, whereas this can't happen between other generalized groups. $\endgroup$
    – John Joe
    Apr 3, 2018 at 19:09
  • $\begingroup$ Or not. Typically there are only two castes which are fertile. $\endgroup$
    – Beanluc
    Apr 3, 2018 at 22:38

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