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Talking Caterpillars: Summary

Let's summarize what we've covered:

  • Interactions between different species are categorized by whether they are beneficial, harmful, or neutral to each of the species. For example, if both species benefit, the interaction is a "mutualism."

  • The outcome of interactions (beneficial, harmful, or neutral) can change depending on the circumstances under which the two species interact. Thus, interactions are "context-dependent."

  • Interactions are also categorized according to whether they are...
    • specialized or generalized (does a partner interact with many other species, or only a few?)
    • obligate or facultative (does a species have to participate in the interaction to survive, or can they take it or leave it?)

  • Ants participate in many mutualisms, and they often provide protection in exchange for food (example: ants and aphids).

  • Many members of the butterfly family Lycaenidae form associations with ants. Most of these interactions are mutualistic, but some are parasitic, predatory, or commensal.

  • These caterpillars communicate with ants using sound, and three organs: the pore cupolas, the dorsal nectary gland, and the tentacular organs (TOs).

  • There are many hypotheses for the function and mechanism of the TOs. In the case of the lycaenid Hemiargus isola, the research of Dr. Jen Weeks provides support for the following hypotheses:
    • The TOs provide indirect defense for the caterpillar by making attendant ants more aggressive.
    • The TOs produce a non-volatile or low-volatile stimulus.

End of talking caterpillars module.

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