, Volume 112, Issue 3, pp 424-429

Experimental tests of the mechanism for ant-enhanced growth in an ant-tended lycaenid butterfly

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Abstract

In a previous laboratory study, larvae of the ant-tended lycaenid butterfly Hemiargus isola developed into larger adults when reared with the ant Formica perpilosa than when reared without ants. Ants neither fed butterfly larvae nor significantly delayed developmental duration. We investigated two non-exclusive hypotheses for the mechanism of this effect: larvae tended by F. perpilosa (1) consume more food, and (2) digest the food they consume more efficiently, than those reared without ants. Larvae reared in the laboratory with F. perpilosa ants became significantly heavier adults but produced a significantly lighter fecal mass than their untended counterparts, suggesting that greater food consumption was not the primary mechanism for the higher growth rates of ant-tended larvae. Tended and untended larvae were equally proficient at digesting the contents of pollen (a major natural food source) throughout the tended portion of the life cycle. Taken together, the results suggest that neither greater consumption nor higher assimilation accounts for the larger size of F. perpilosa-tended larvae. We propose that tended larvae may expend less energy than their untended counterparts.

Received: 3 January 1997 / Accepted: 18 June 1997