, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 141-149
Date: 19 Aug 2009

Multiple host-ant use by the predatory social parasite Phengaris (=Maculinea) arion (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae)

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Abstract

Phengaris (=Maculinea) arion is an endangered social parasite of Myrmica ants, and for a very long time was considered as specific to Myrmica sabuleti. Previous studies carried out in Poland suggested some discrepancies within this assumption, and therefore a much more intensive survey was undertaken. The host ant use of P. arion was studied at five sites in different types of biotopes in Poland, i.e. xerothermal grasslands where Thymus pulegioides was used as a larval food plant by the butterfly, and more or less sandy biotopes with Thymus serpyllum. Altogether nine Myrmica species were recorded, and considerable variation in species composition and density of nests was recorded. At four localities M. sabuleti proved to be the most common ant. A total of 529 Myrmica nests were examined, and only 20 of them contained larvae and pupae of P. arion. Host ants belonged to five different species, i.e. M. sabuleti, Myrmica scabrinodis, Myrmica schencki, Myrmica lobicornis and Myrmica hellenica. Only at one site (NE Poland) was a significant heterogeneity in parasitation rates among Myrmica species detected. M. lobicornis was the most often infested ant there, which may suggest local specialisation of the butterfly. Overall low parasitism rates may explain the vulnerability of P. arion in Central Europe but further studies are also necessary.