Free Childcare for Butterflies - Ants attending

 

Free childcare for butterflies? Why not? What better way to engage otherwise predatory ants than to occupy them with your offspring.

 

That is exactly what many members of the butterfly Lycaenid family do. These species have formed a mutually beneficial relationship with ants. The latter guard butterfly larvae against potential predators and parasites, often shelter the caterpillars in their own nests. In return, the larvae provide chemical substances from little glands on their bodies.  These substances include sugars and amino acids and are valuable to the ants, and they appear to neutralize ants' otherwise predatory behaviour. 

 

Butterflies like the local Imperial Blue (Jalmenus evagoras) are entirely dependent on this arrangement. It is said that their larvae and pupae would not survive without the attending ants. 

 

Photo of Imperial Blue (Jalmenus evagoras) pupae by JG-Jutta Godwin