Larval niche selection and evening exposure enhance adoption of a predacious social parasite, Maculineaarion (large blue butterfly), by Myrmica ants
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- Thomas, J. Oecologia (2002) 132: 531. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-1002-9
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Larvae of the butterfly genus Maculinea feed briefly on a foodplant before being adopted as social parasites into Myrmica ant nests. Each Maculinea species typically survives only with a single Myrmica species, yet the eggs are laid across the overlapping territories of 3–5 Myrmica species and several other ants. The ability of Maculinea arion – a 'predatory' species of Maculinea – to influence its adoption into host Myrmica colonies was studied for the first time in the field. Some earlier reports, involving captive non-host ants, suggested that larvae of the predatory Maculinea follow ant trails into host nests or wander some distance from their foodplant before being discovered and (after a long interaction) carried away by Myrmica foragers. No dispersal from foodplants occurred in wild Maculinea arion larvae. Instead, they increased by >100-fold their probability of being discovered and adopted by Myrmica spp., rather than by ants of other genera, by exposing themselves in the micro-niche occupied by Myrmica foragers at their time of day of peak foraging. Despite a complex, hour-long interaction with Myrmica workers before being carried to the nest, Maculinea arion did not enhance its adoption by host species of Myrmica. Eggs were laid without bias in Myrmica sabuleti (host) and Myrmica scabrinodis (non-host) territories; larval survival on Thymus was the same in both ants' territories; larvae waited to be found beneath their foodplant rather than seek their host; Myrmica sabuleti and Myrmica scabrinodis foraged in the same vertical and temporal niches, and had the same probability of discovering larvae; both ants behaved identically after finding larvae and took the same time to adopt them; and the ratio of wild larvae taken into Myrmica sabuleti or Myrmica scabrinodis nests was the same as the distribution between these ants of Thymus, eggs and pre-adoption larvae.