, Volume 109, Issue 3, pp 454-460

The exploitation of an ant-defended host plant by a shelter-building herbivore

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Larvae of a Polyhymno species (Lepidoptera: Gelechiidae) feed on the ant-defended acacia, Acacia cornigera, in the tropical lowlands of Veracruz, Mexico. Polyhymno larvae construct sealed shelters by silking together the pinna or pinnules of acacia leaves. Although larval density and larval survival are higher on acacias not occupied by ants, shelters serve as a partial refuge from the ant Pseudomyrmex ferruginea (Hymenoptera: Formicidae), which defends A. cornigera plants; thus, shelters provide Polyhymno larvae access to an ant-defended host plant. P. ferruginea ants act as the primary antiherbivore defense of A. cornigera plants, which lack the chemical and mechanical defenses of non-ant-defended acacias. Thus, defeating the ant defense of A. cornigera provides Polyhymno larvae access to an otherwise poorly defended host plant. Damage caused by Polyhymno larval feeding reaches levels which can kill A. cornigera plants.