Know Your Butterfly: Phengaris


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Phengaris species are myrmecophiles. In the 4th instar they leave their host plant to crawl to ground and be adopted by ants. Some peacefully coexist in ant nest and others are social predators which eat their ant larvae. To survive they need three critical things: undisturbed habitat, special plants and specific ant relationships.Phengaris belong to Lycaenidae or the Blue Butterflies.

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Know Your Butterfly: Phengaris

  1. 1. Phengaris / Maculinea Alcon Blue, Phengaris alcon Large Blue, Phengaris arion Large Dusky Blue, Phengaris nausithous Large Scarce Blue, Phengaris teleius Myrmecophile Phengaris species are myrmecophilic. The eggs develop on the host plant until the 4th instar. When the larvae climbs down the plant to wait for a passing ant. Phengaris species have specific associations with specific ant species. So not just any ant, but the ant specific to that species in that area. When the Right Ant appears, the caterpillar communicates with special chemical which mimics the ant’s semio-chemical signals. The ant gets duped and carries the larvae off to the ant nest where it is tended by worker ants through the larval stage until it pupates. The Phengaris species have two-track development programs of 10months or 22months. 25% larvae develop in 10months and 75% develop over 22 months. Despite the time difference, there are no morphological differences observed. Polyommatini: Phengaris sp
  2. 2. The Phengaris larvaee has 3 special organs to attract and keep its ant. 1. DNO Dorsal Nectar Organ on 7th segment which secrets honeydew for ants 2. TO an eversible Tentacle Organ on 8th segment which sprays a chemical to ward off ants as defensive weapon. 3. PCO Pore Cupola Organ epidermal glands that secrete chemicals that attract ants In addition to this, the larvae sing. Phengaris larvae mimic the stridulations of workers and ant queens, so the ants get the honey-trap and then tend the larvae as if it were a queen ant because it mimics queen ant commands. Some Phengaris have mutualistic relationship with ant hosts, but others are social parasites and as they develop, they gobble up ant larvae in the ant nest while the workers are tending them as ant queens. Clever? If the ant nest is disturbed, the ants will rescue the Phengaris before the ant larvae and if there is food shortage, the ants feed the Phengaris larvae first. But remember, the Phengaris larvae also produce secretions for the ants. So to survive, Phengaris species must have special plants and specialized ant caretakers. Their l and should not be disturbed It’s complicated. They’re threatened.. Phengaris species
  3. 3. Synonyms: Maculinea nausithous Food plants/larvae: Great Burnet, Sanguisorbis offinalis Food plants/adults Great Burnet, Sanguisorbis offinalis Habitat: fens, bogs, wetlands, peat meadows, carbonate bogs, marsh Myrmecophile: Myrmica rubra, M scabrinodis, M ruginodis, Predator: Neotypus melancephalus pusillus Countries: Armenia, Austria, Azerbajan, Belarus, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ukraine Celakovice-Jirina, Czech Republic Dusky Large Blue, Phengaris nausithous Blues: Polyommatini
  4. 4. Synonym: Maculinea alcon Food plants/larvae Marsh Gentian, Gentiana pneumananthe Food plants/ adult: Marsh Gentian, Gentiana pneumananthe , Vetch, Vicia sp Betony, Betonica offinalis, Willow Gentian, Gentiana asclepiadea Habitat: flowery meadows, grasslands, litter meadows, wet heathlands Myrmecophile: Myrmica rubra, M ruginodis, M scabrinodis, M vandeli Countries: Albania, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Corsica, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Ukraine Alcon Blue, Phengaris alcon
  5. 5. Synonym: Maculinea teleius Plant food/larvae: Great Burnet, Sanguisorbis offinales Plant food/adult: Great Burnet, Sanguisorbis offinales, Cow vetch, Vicia cracca Habitat: bogs, humid grasslands, wet grassland, rough grassland Myrmecophile: Myrmica scabrinodis, M rubra, M vandeli social parasite that feeds on ant larvae Countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Croatia, France, Germany, Georgia, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine Re-introduced: The Netherlands Scarce Large Blue, Phengaris teleius
  6. 6. I have heard the caterpillar singing I have heard the caterpillar singing Blues throughout the night As reigning queen to worker ant Stridulent in demands Strident lullabyes to the subservient I have heard the caterpillar sing With demands of honey dew To satisfy its insatiable appetite. With honeydew oblations, the gullible ants Toil as slaves deep within the soil To the strident tempo of the caterpillar's song That echoes underground. Imperious orders echo through a labyrinthine maze For living sacrifice to gratify the hidden minotaur From the vanishing population of the enslaved colony I have heard the caterpillar singing glorious Of the chrysalis to spread its wings In the predawn darkness of the morning I have heard the caterpillar singing. Mary C Legg/ pogomcl © 2014 Caterpillar Music caterpillar music mixed sounds of the Phengaris alcon and Phengaris teleius larvae singing II have heard the caterpillar singing
  7. 7. mixed sounds of the Phengaris alcon and Phengaris teleius larvae singing commands to worker ants. Sound files were found in: Variation in Butterfly Larval Acoustics as a Strategy to Infiltrate and Exploit Host Ant Colony Resources Variation in Butterfly Larval Acoustics as a Strategy to Infiltrate and Exploit Host Ant Colony Resources Marco Sala, Luca Pietro Casacci,* Emilio Balletto, Simona Bonelli, and Francesca Barbero University of Turin, Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology, Turin, Italy Wulfila Gronenberg, Editor University of Arizona, United States of America addition credit: We would like to thank Dr. Karsten Schönrogge (CEH, Wallingford) and Prof. Jeremy Thomas (Oxford University, Oxford) for providing the recording equipment and Dr. Livio Favaro (Turin University, Turin) for fruitful discussions and inputs on sound analysis. I have heard the Caterpillar singing- sound credit