Consequences of the arms race between Maculinea teleius social parasite and Myrmica host ants for myrmecophilous butterfly conservation


The arms race between Maculinea butterflies and Myrmica host ants leads to local host-parasite adaptations. In our study, we assessed whether sympatric and allopatric Myrmica scabrinodis populations exhibit behavioural differences towards Maculinea teleius larvae during the adoption-period when butterfly larvae need to be taken inside the Myrmica nest. The second aim was to assess the butterfly survival rate inside ant colonies from different populations. We used one sympatric host population and three allopatric populations: one infested by M. teleius and two uninfested populations. We found that ants from the sympatric population showed a higher number of positive behaviours toward M. teleius larvae during adoption than ants from the allopatric populations. There were no differences in the number of inspection or negative behaviour events. The survival of butterfly larvae was highest inside sympatric host colonies and differed from the survival of M. teleius reared by ants from the allopatric, uninfested populations. No difference was found for the survival rate of M. teleius raised by infested, allopatric host colonies compared to sympatric host populations. Our results suggest the lack of behavioural counter-adaptations of local hosts of M. teleius that more easily adopt and rear butterfly caterpillars compared to naive M. scabrinodis colonies. Our results may also have implications for Maculinea butterfly conservation, especially for reintroduction programmes. We suggest that the existence of behavioural host defences should be checked for the source host population, as well as for the Myrmica population from the reintroduction site. It may also be reasonable to introduce several Myrmica host colonies from the source butterfly host population.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. Akino T, Knapp JJ, Thomas JA, Elmes GW (1999) Chemical mimicry and host specificity in the butterfly Maculinea rebeli, a social parasite of Myrmica ant colonies. Proc R Soc Lond B 266:1419–1426

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Als TD, Nash DR, Boomsma JJ (2001) Adoption of parasitic Maculinea alcon caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) by three Myrmica ant species. Anim Behav 62:99–106

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Andersen A, Simcox DJ, Thomas JA, Nash DR (2014) Assessing reintroduction schemes by compering genetic diversity of reintroduced and source populations: a case study of the globally threatened large blue butterfly (Maculinea arion). Biol Conserv 175:34–41

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Barbero F, Casaccii LP (2015) Butterflies that trick ants with sound. Phys Today 68:64.

  5. Bauer S, Witte V, Böhm M, Foitzik S (2009) Fight or flight? A geographic mosaic in host reaction and potency of a chemical weapon in the social parasite Harpagoxenus sublaevis. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 64:45–56

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Buszko J (1997) Atlas rozmieszczenia motyli dziennych w Polsce (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea, Hesperioidea) 1986–1995. Oficyna Wydawnicza Turpress, Toruń

  7. Cammaerts-Tricot MC (1974) Production and perception of attractive pheromones by differently aged workers of Myrmica rubra (Hymenoptera: Formicidae). Insect Soc 3:235–248

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Foitzik S, De Heer CJ, Hunjan DN, Herbers JM (2001) Coevolution in host-parasite system: behavioural strategies of slavemaking ants and their hosts. Proc R Soc Lond 268:1139–1146

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Foitzik S, Fischer B, Heinze J (2003) Arms races between social parasites and their hosts: geographic patterns of manipulation and resistance. Behav Ecol 14:80–88

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Hayes MP (2015) The biology and ecology of the large blue butterfly Phengaris (Maculinea) arion: a review. J Insect Conserv 19:1037–1051

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Jongepier E, Kleeberg I, Job S, Foitzik S (2014) Collective defence portfolios of ant hosts shift with social parasite pressure. Proc R Soc B 281:20140225

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  12. Nash DR, Als TD, Maile R, Jones G, Boomsma JJ (2008) A mosaic of chemical coevolution in a large blue butterfly. Science 319:88–90

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  13. Nash DR, Als TD, Boomsma JJ (2011) Survival and growth of parasitic Maculinea alcon caterpillars (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae) in laboratory nests of three Myrmica ant species. Insect Soc 58:391–401

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Radchenko AG, Elmes GW (2010) Myrmica ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae) of the old world. Natura Optima Dux Fundation, Warszawa

  15. R Core Team (2015): R: A language and environment for statistical computing. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna.

  16. Schönrogge K, Wardlaw JC, Peters AJ, Everett S, Thomas JA, Elmes GW (2004) Changes in chemical signature and host specificity from larval retrieval to full social integration in the myrmecophilous butterfly Maculinea rebeli. J Chem Ecol 30:91–107

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  17. Sielezniew M, Stankiewicz-Fiedurek AM (2009) Host ant use by Phengaris (=Maculinea) alcon (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae) in Poland. Pol J Entomol 78:323–335

    Google Scholar 

  18. Solazzo G, Mortiz RFA, Settele J (2013) Choice behaviour of Myrmica rubra workers between ant larvae and larvae of their Phengaris (Maculinea) nausithous nest parasites. Insect Soc 60:57–64

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Stankiewicz A, Sielezniew M (2002) Host specificity of Maculinea teleius Bgstr. and M. nausithous Bgstr. (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae). The new insight. Ann Zool 52:403–408

    Google Scholar 

  20. Tartally A. and Varga Z (2008) Host ant use of Maculinea teleius in the Carpathian basin (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae). Acta Zool Acad Sci Hung 54:257–268

    Google Scholar 

  21. Tartally A, Nash DR, Lengyel S, Varga Z (2008) Patterns of host ant use by sympatric populations of M. alcon and M. rebeli in the Carpathian Basin. Insectes Soc 55:370–381

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Therneau T (2015) A Package for Survival Analysis in S. version 2.38.

  23. Thomas JA (1980) Why did the large blue become extinct in Britain? Oryx 15:243–247

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Thomas JA, Simcox DJ, Clarke RT (2009) Successful conservation of a threatened Maculinea butterfly. Science 325:80–83

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. Thompson JN (1999a) The evolution of species interactions. Science 284:2116–2118

  26. Thompson JN (1999b) Specific hypotheses on the geographic mosaic of coevolution. Am Nat 153:1–14

  27. Witek M, Śliwińska EB, Skórka P, Nowicki P, Wantuch M, Vrabec V, Settele J., Woyciechowski M (2008) Host ant specificity of large blue butterflies Phengaris (Maculinea) (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) inhabiting humid grassland in East-central Europe. Eur J Entomol 105:871–877

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Witek M, Skórka P, Śliwinska BE, Nowicki P, Moroń D, Settele J, Woyciechowski M (2011) Development of parasitic Maculinea teleius (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) larvae in laboratory nests of four Myrmica ant host species. Insectes Soc 58: 403–411

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  29. Witek M, Casacci LP, Barbero F, Patricelli D, Sala M, Bossi S, Maffei M, Woyciechowski M, Baletto E, Bonelli S (2013) Interspecific relationships in co-occurring populations of social parasites and their host ants. Biol J Linn Soc 109:699–709

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Witek M, Barbero F, Markó B (2014) Myrmica ants host highly diverse parasitic communities: from social parasites to microbes. Insectes Soc 61:307–323

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Witek M, Ślipiński P, Naumiec K, Krupski A, Babik H, Walter B, Symonowicz B, Dubiec A. (2016) Performance of Myrmica ant colonies is correlated with presence of social parasites. Ecol Entomol 41:284–291

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Wynhoff I (1998) Lessons from the reintroduction of Maculinea teleius and M. nausithous in the Netherlands. J Insect Conserv 2:47–57

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We would like to thank Magdalena Buś for her help with the fieldwork in Bydgoszcz and Włocławek and Marta Wantuch for help during laboratory experiments. We are grateful for the useful comments of Luca Casacci and two anonymous referees with which we were able to make significant improvements to our manuscript. The study was supported by a grant from the Polish National Science Centre to MW (post-doctoral internship No. DEC-2012/04/S/NZ8/00218), EC was supported by a grant of the Romanian National Authority for Scientific Research and Innovation, CNCS—UEFISCDI, project number (PN-II-RU-TE-2014-4-1930). Field surveys were performed under permission issued by the Regional Directorate for Environmental Protection in Kraków.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Magdalena Witek.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Witek, M., Ślipiński, P., Trigos Peral, G. et al. Consequences of the arms race between Maculinea teleius social parasite and Myrmica host ants for myrmecophilous butterfly conservation. J Insect Conserv 20, 887–893 (2016).

Download citation


  • Coevolution
  • Counter-adaptations
  • Host-parasite interaction
  • Phengaris
  • Reintroduction