, Volume 85, Issue 1, pp 87–91 | Cite as

The effect of queen ants on the survival of Maculinea arion larvae in Myrmica ant nests

  • J. A. Thomas
  • J. C. Wardlaw
Original Papers


The mortality of Maculinea arion caterpillars was measured in both laboratory and wild Myrmica nests, and found to be nearly 3 times higher in nests that had queen ants present. This is attributed to ‘queen effect’, which causes worker ants in nests with queens to attack large ant larvae (gynes) that would otherwise develop into new queens. Maculinea arion caterpillars mimic Myrmica larvae, and are usually attacked during the first 10 days after adoption, when they pass through the size range of ant gyne larvae. Caterpillars are also likely to be attacked during this period because their nethod of feeding brings them into close contact with the skins of large ant larvae, which contain gyne larval pheromones; older caterpillars are large enough to eat larvae without their exposed surfaces contacting the larval skin. In the wild, many caterpillars of Maculinea arion die in ant nests, and this has been shown in previous work to be the key factor that determines changes in their abundance from year to year. It is suggested that queen effect can be an important cause of these deaths, and one that particularly affects populations of butterflies that breed on sites with long-established plagioclimaxes of short turf rather than short-lived grass-land successions.

Key words

Queen effect Butterfly/ant relationships Maculinea Myrmica Pheromone 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1990

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. A. Thomas
    • 1
  • J. C. Wardlaw
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Terrestrial EcologyFurzebrook Research StationWarehamUK

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