Original Paper

Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 194, Issue 12, pp 1043-1052

First online:

Gustatory synergism in ants mediates a species-specific symbiosis with lycaenid butterflies

  • Masaru K. HojoAffiliated withDivision of Applied Biology, Graduate School of Science and Technology, Kyoto Institute of Technology Email author 
  • , Ayako Wada-KatsumataAffiliated withDivision of Applied Life Science, Graduate of School of Agriculture, Kyoto University
  • , Mamiko OzakiAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Graduate School of Science, Kobe University
  • , Susumu YamaguchiAffiliated with
  • , Ryohei YamaokaAffiliated withDivision of Applied Biology, Graduate School of Science and Technology, Kyoto Institute of Technology

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Here we show that larvae of the lycaenid butterfly Niphanda fusca secrete droplets containing trehalose and glycine. These droplets attract the larva’s host ants Camponotus japonicus, which collect and protect the larvae. We comparatively investigated gustatory preference for trehalose, glycine or a mixture of the two between host (C. japonicus) and non-host (Camponotus obscuripes) species of ants in behavioral and electrophysiological experiments. Glycine itself induced no taste sensation in either host or non-host ants. The mixture of trehalose plus glycine was chosen as much as pure trehalose by non-host ants. However, the host ants clearly preferred the mixture of trehalose plus glycine to trehalose alone. When we used sucrose instead of trehalose, the mixture of sucrose plus glycine was chosen as much as sucrose alone, in both species. These behavioral data are supported by the electrophysiological responsiveness to sugars and/or glycine in the sugar-taste receptor cells of the ants. Considering that lycaenid butterflies’ secretions have species-specific compositions of sugar and amino acid; our results clearly showed that such species-specific compositions of larval secretions are precisely tuned to the feeding preferences of their host ant species, in which the feeding preferences are synergistically enhanced by amino acid.


Lycaenidae Ants Synergism Obligate symbiosis Nectar