Butterflies Dupe Ants, Trigger "Smell" Race

A new scientific paper has shown a strange, deceptive adaptation in the Maculinea butterflies of North Western Europe--an adaptation that has caused a genetic race between the butterflies and many different species of ants. The butterflies' caterpillar larvae emit a powerful smell that tricks the ants into believing that they are in fact ant larvae. The ants then...

...carry the larvae back to their secret lairs, and feed them. Just like the famed cuckoo birds, the larvae trick the ants so effectively that the ants give up on taking care of their own brood to focus exclusively on the caterpillars.

In response to this invasion, however, ants from colonies that have been "parasited" by the butterflies have evolved to have a different odor than the butterflies, and thus are able to recognize the caterpillars as frauds.

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In their research David Nash, Jacobus Boomsma and others from the Centre for Social Evolution (CSE) at the University of Copenhagen show that colonies of ants which developed a resistance (a different smell) and then interbred with colonies who had not been exposed to the parasites lost their resistance as the genes were diluted. Of course, they then fell victim to the Maculinea butterflies again.

The cuter brown grub is the Maculinea caterpillar

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Once the ants start feeding the larvae and then forget about their own little guys, what happens next? Swarms of ninja butterflies then arrive, called by a top secret code radar emission by the trick larvae, to rape and pillage the unsuspecting and unprotected hoard of ants? I don't get it. This article doesn't make sense.

By Old Randy (not verified) on 06 Jan 2008 #permalink

Or do the larvae just lie there and wait until the right moment when tiny pupa-razi bust out of the cocoon and start snapping pics of ant-larvae threesomes? I still don't get it.

By Old Randy (not verified) on 06 Jan 2008 #permalink

Old Randy - How old are you? For instance, do you have teeth?