Research – Tibbetts Lab


We study behavioral evolution. Much of our work explores how communication systems and social behavior coevolve to shape the way animals look, think, and act. We explore questions like: Why are animals brightly colored? How have animals adapted to deal with the challenges of social life? How does communication coevolve with cognition?

Taxonomically, our research focuses on social insects, primarily Polistes paper wasps. Our two favorite species are Polistes fuscatus, which have variable facial patterns that are used for individual recognition, and Polistes dominula, which have visual signals of fighting ability.


  • Signals involved in social and sexual selection
  • How does communication influence the evolution of senders and receivers?
  • What maintains signal honesty?
  • Sensory and cognitive mechanisms that facilitate and co-evolve with recognition
  • How do novel signals originate?


  • Behavioral and physiological mechanisms that underlie cooperation


  • The evolution of social intelligence
  • The role of specialization vs. generalization in cognitive evolution

Juvenile hormone

  • JH as a regulator of life history tradeoffs
  • How social and environmental factors influence JH-titers
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