To learn the evolutionary trajectories of caste differentiation in eusocial species is a major goal of sociobiology. We present an explanatory framework for caste evolution in the eusocial wasp genus Polistes (Vespidae), which is a model system for insect eusocial evolution. We hypothesize that Polistes worker and gyne castes stem from two developmental pathways that characterized the bivoltine life cycle of a solitary ancestor. Through individual-based simulations, we show that our mechanistic framework can reproduce colony-level characteristics of Polistes and, thereby, that social castes can emerge from solitary regulatory pathways. Our explanatory framework illustrates, by specific example, a changed perspective for understanding insect social evolution.
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