, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 237-248

The costs and benefits of cooperation between the Australian lycaenid butterfly, Jalmenus evagoras, and its attendant ants

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The larvae and pupae of the Australian lycaenid butterfly, Jalmenus evagoras associate mutualistically with ants in the genus Iridomyrmex. Four ant exclusion experiments in three field sites demonstrated that predation and parasitism of J. evagoras are so intense that individuals deprived of their attendant ants are unlikely to survive. Larvae and pupae of J. evagoras aggregate, and the mean number of attendant ants per individual increases with larval age and decreases with group size. Field observations showed that young larvae could gain more attendant ants per individual by joining the average size group of about 4 larvae than by foraging alone. Aggregation behaviour is influenced by ant attendance: young larvae and pupating fifth instars aggregated significantly more often on plants with ants than on plants where ants had been excluded. In return for tending and protecting the larvae, ants were rewarded by food secretions that can amount to as much as 409 mg dry biomass from a single host plant containing 62 larvae and pupae of J. evagoras over a 24 h period. Larval development in the laboratory lasted approximately a month, and larvae that were tended by ants developed almost 5 days faster than larvae that were not tended. However, tended individuals, particularly females, pupated at a significantly lower weight than their untended counterparts, and the adults that eclosed from these pupae were also lighter and smaller. On average, pupae that were tended by ants lost 25% more weight than untended pupae, and in contrast with larvae, they took longer to eclose than pupae that were not tended. These experimental results are discussed in terms of costs and benefits of association for both partners, and of aggregation for the lycaenids.