Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Smell-wars Between Butterflies And Ants

Date:
January 7, 2008
Source:
University of Copenhagen
Summary:
Large blue butterflies manage to have their larvae adopted and cared-for by ant colonies. They deceive the ants into feeding them while letting their own brood starve. The caterpillar deception is a matter of smell, and there is an ongoing co-evolutionary arms race in smell similarity between cheaters and their victims.

Among humans, making yourself smell more alluring than you really are is a fairly harmless, socially accepted habit that maintains a complete perfume industry. However, it is a matter of life and death for caterpillars of large blue butterflies that dupe ant workers into believing them to be one of the ant's own larvae.

In a publication in the journal Science , researchers from the Centre for Social Evolution (CSE) at the University of Copenhagen show that caterpillar deception is also a matter of smell, and that there is an ongoing co-evolutionary arms race in smell similarity between cheaters and their victims.

Most people are familiar with animal confidence tricksters such as cuckoos, which grow up at the expense of 4-5 chicks of hapless songbirds. Less well known, but at least as spectacular, are the large blue butterflies of the genus Maculinea, whose larvae are adopted by ant colonies and deceive the ants into feeding them while letting their own brood starve. Jutland, and the island Læsø in particular, are among the last European strongholds of one of these species, the Alcon blue, which has enabled researchers from the CSE to study these spectacular butterflies in great detail.

David Nash, Jacobus Boomsma and colleagues show that superb chemical mimicry manipulates the ants into neglecting their own brood to care almost exclusively for their caterpillar parasites, but also that the ant hosts can evolve resistance against this exploitation by changing how they smell. However, this only works when the host ants that live close to the initial foodplant of the caterpillars, the rare marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, do not interbreed with ants from neighbouring sites where the gentian does not occur. In the sites without the foodplant, ant colonies are never parasitized, so ants do not evolve resistance. Any resistance that has evolved in areas with butterflies is not effectively passed on to future generations because it is diluted by the flow of non-resistant genes from the uninfected areas.

In their study, the CSE researchers show that the two red ant species of the genus Myrmica that are host for the Alcon blue in Denmark differ dramatically in their degree of gene-flow among neighbouring sites, even though they live in the same gentian patches. Exactly as expected from evolutionary theory, they demonstrate that selection for resistance only works when the ant queens mate locally with males from colonies that have likewise suffered from butterfly parasitism.

With this study, the CSE researchers show that a study that was initially inspired by an interest in the suitable conservation of these large blue butterflies in Denmark can give important insights into the fundamentals of evolutionary biology. They achieved this result by an interdisciplinary collaboration with a British group of chemists, specializing on the study of chemical profiles on the surface of insects.

 


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Copenhagen. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Copenhagen. "Smell-wars Between Butterflies And Ants." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103144408.htm>.
University of Copenhagen. (2008, January 7). Smell-wars Between Butterflies And Ants. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103144408.htm
University of Copenhagen. "Smell-wars Between Butterflies And Ants." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080103144408.htm (accessed April 20, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Mich. Boy Unearths 10,000-Year-Old Mastodon Tooth

Newsy (Apr. 20, 2014) — A 9-year-old Michigan boy was exploring a creek when he came across a 10,000-year-old tooth from a prehistoric mastodon. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home

AP (Apr. 18, 2014) — Dairy farmers and ethnic groups in Vermont are both benefiting from a unique collaborative effort that's feeding a growing need for fresh and affordable goat meat. (April 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Man Claims He Found Loch Ness Monster With... Apple Maps?

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Andy Dixon showed the Daily Mail a screenshot of what he believes to be the mythical beast swimming just below the lake's surface. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

First Ever 'Female Penis' Discovered In Animal Kingdom

Newsy (Apr. 18, 2014) — Not only are these newly discovered bugs' sex organs reversed, but they also mate for up to 70 hours. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins