Sociality is a survival response to evolutionary pressures. For example, when a mother wasp stays near her larvae in the nest, parasites are less likely to eat the larvae. Biologists suspect that pressures from parasites and other predators selected this behavior in wasps of the family Vespidae.
This wasp behaviour evidences the most fundamental characteristic of animal sociality: parental investment. Parental investment is any expenditure of resources (time, energy, social capital) to benefit one's offspring. Parental investment detracts from a parent's capacity to invest in future reproduction and aid to kin (including other offspring). An animal that cares for its young but shows no other sociality traits is said to be subsocial.
An animal that exhibits a high degree of sociality is called a social animal. The highest degree of sociality recognized by sociobiologists is eusociality. A eusocial taxon is one that exhibits overlapping adult generations, reproductive division of labor, cooperative care of young, and—in the most refined cases—a biological caste system.
Solitary animals such as the jaguar do not associate except for courtship and mating. If an animal taxon shows a degree of sociality beyond courtship and mating, but lacks any of the characteristics of eusociality, it is said to be presocial. Although presocial species are much more common than eusocial species, eusocial species have disproportionately large populations.
The entomologist Charles D. Michener published a classification system for presociality in 1969, building on the earlier work of Suzanne Batra (who coined the words eusocial and quasisocial in 1966). Michener used these terms in his study of bees, but also saw a need for additional classifications: subsocial, communal, and semisocial. In his use of these words, he did not generalize beyond insects. E. O. Wilson later refined Batra's definition of quasisocial.
Subsociality is common in the animal kingdom. In subsocial taxa, parents care for their young for some length of time. Even if the period of care is very short, the animal is still described as subsocial. If adult animals associate with other adults, they are not called subsocial, but are ranked in some other classification according to their social behaviours. If occasionally associating or nesting with other adults is a taxon's most social behaviour, then members of those populations are said to be solitary but social. See Wilson (1971) for definitions and further sub-classes of varieties of subsociality. Choe & Crespi (1997) and Costa (2006) give readable overviews.
Subsociality is widely distributed among the winged insects, and has evolved independently many times. Insect groups that contain at least some subsocial species are shown in boldface on a phylogenetic tree of the Neoptera: