Signals in Insect Social Organization

Sarah D. Kocher, Reginald B. Cocroft

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Communication is central to the social lives of insects. In fact, social behavior has been defined as “reciprocal communication of a cooperative nature” (Wilson, 1971), and signals can be considered as the “social glue that binds individuals to one another” (Costa, 2006). Thus, social behavior and communication are intricately woven together throughout evolutionary history, and it has frequently been hypothesized that as the complexity of interactions in social groups increases, the complexity or diversity of signals used for communication among group members should also increase (Leonhardt et al, 2016). However, we do not fully understand how these social signals and response systems evolve and perhaps more importantly, how they co-evolve. In this article, we focus in particular on the relationships between communication and social behavior within the insects - a group that harbors remarkable diversity in both traits. We begin by broadly reviewing what is known about the diversity of social behaviors and communication systems in insect societies, and then we examine the evidence suggesting that these two traits are likely to be tightly coupled. Finally, we address some of the open questions in the field and propose future lines of research to better examine the evolution and co-evolution of social behavior and communication systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Animal Behavior, Second Edition
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 1-5
ISBN (Electronic)9780128132524
ISBN (Print)9780128132517
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences
  • General Environmental Science


  • Communication
  • Evolution
  • Insects
  • Pheromones
  • Sensory systems
  • Signaling
  • Social behavior


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