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Chemical disguise as particular caste of host ants in the ant inquiline parasite Niphanda fusca (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae)

By Masaru K. Hojo, Ayako Wada-Katsumata, Toshiharu Akino, Susumu Yamaguchi, Mamiko Ozaki and Ryohei Yamaoka


The exploitation of parental care is common in avian and insect ‘cuckoos’ and these species engage in a coevolutionary arms race. Caterpillars of the lycaenid butterfly Niphanda fusca develop as parasites inside the nests of host ants (Camponotus japonicus) where they grow by feeding on the worker trophallaxis. We hypothesized that N. fusca caterpillars chemically mimic host larvae, or some particular castes of the host ant, so that the caterpillars are accepted and cared for by the host workers. Behaviourally, it was observed that the host workers enthusiastically tended glass dummies coated with the cuticular chemicals of larvae or males and those of N. fusca caterpillars living together. Cuticular chemical analyses revealed that N. fusca caterpillars grown in a host ant nest acquired a colony-specific blend of cuticular hydrocarbons (CHCs). Furthermore, the CHC profiles of the N. fusca caterpillars were particularly close to those of the males rather than those of the host larvae and the others. We suggest that N. fusca caterpillars exploit worker care by matching their cuticular profile to that of the host males, since the males are fed by trophallaxis with workers in their natal nests for approximately ten months

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: The Royal Society
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Provided by: PubMed Central
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