Vibrational sounding, which is a form of echolocation, is a means of host location by some parasitoid wasps. The wasp taps the substrate (wood, stem or soil) and detects the position of a potential host through the returning ‘echoes’. The deployment of vibrational sounding is inferred through the form of the subgenual organ in the female tibia in combination with the presence of modifications to the female antenna used for tapping the substrate. Vibrational sounding and its associated modifications were found in two families. The use of vibrational sounding by parasitoid wasps was positively correlated with the depth of the host in the substrate relative to the size of the parasitoid. There were also significant correlations between the use of vibrational sounding and parasitism of immobile and concealed hosts and between vibrational sounding and idiobiosis. The data suggested that vibrational sounding evolved under a variety of ecological conditions, being employed in the location of wood–boring, stem–boring, soildwelling and cocooned hosts and stem–nesting aculeates, often in situations in which the host does not produce vibrations itself.