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Ants and Lycaenid Caterpillars

Many members of the butterfly family Lycaenidae (pronounced "lye-SEE-nih-day") form associations with ants. (Read more about lycaenids.)

Interactions between ants and lycaenids are very diverse and complex, and include examples of mutualism, predation, parasitism, and possibly commensalism and competition.

Table of kinds of interactions between ants and lycaenids.
interaction effect on ant effect on lycaenid type
ant protects lycaenid, lycaenid feeds ant + + mutualism
ant eats lycaenid + - predation
lycaenid eats ant - + predation
lycaenid parasitizes ants (by eating ant larvae, or by getting ant to feed it) - + parasitism
lycaenid lives within ant shelter that encloses plant leaves; both ants and lycaenid eat leaves







commensal or competition

Source: Pierce, N. E., M. F. Braby, A. Heath, D. J. Lohman, J. Mathew, D. B. Rand, and M. A. Travassos. 2002. The ecology and evolution of ant association in the Lycaenidae (Lepidoptera). Annual Review of Entomology 47:733-771.

  • Most (97%) of ant/lycaenid interactions are mutualistic.
  • 45 % are generalized and facultative.
  • 30% are specialized and obligate.

Want more info? Check out some of the great web sites available on the topic of ant/lycaenid interactions.

Next: How lycaenids communicate with ants.


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