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Open AccessArticle

Host Ant Change of a Socially Parasitic Butterfly (Phengaris alcon) through Host Nest Take-Over

1
Department of Evolutionary Zoology and Human Biology, University of Debrecen, Egyetem tér 1, H-4032 Debrecen, Hungary
2
Juhász-Nagy Pál Doktoral School, University of Debrecen, Egyetem tér 1, H-4032 Debrecen, Hungary
3
Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen, Denmark
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Insects 2020, 11(9), 556; https://doi.org/10.3390/insects11090556
Received: 22 July 2020 / Revised: 12 August 2020 / Accepted: 18 August 2020 / Published: 20 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Behavior and Ecology of Social Insects)
The endangered Alcon blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon) starts its larval stage by feeding on the seeds of gentian plants, after which it completes development in the nests of suitable Myrmica ant species. Any particular population often uses more than one host ant species, and some host switching is likely. To test switching in the lab we introduced relatively strong colonies of alien Myrmica species to the arenas of weaker colonies, and to orphaned caterpillars. Most of the caterpillars were successfully readopted by alien ants, and survived well. Our results suggest higher ecological plasticity in host ant usage of this butterfly than generally thought. The Alcon blue is an iconic species, e.g., its special life cycle has featured in several high profile television and streaming media wildlife series, and the more we know about its unusual life the more we can do for its protected sites.
The socially parasitic Alcon blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon) starts its larval stage by feeding on the seeds of gentians, after which it completes development in the nests of suitable Myrmica ant species. The host plant and host ant species can differ at the population level within a region, and local adaptation is common, but some host switches are observed. It has been suggested that one mechanism of change is through the re-adoption of caterpillars by different ant species, either through occupation of abandoned nests or take-over of established nests by competitively superior colonies. To test this question in the lab we introduced relatively strong colonies (50 workers) of alien Myrmica species to the arenas of weaker colonies (two caterpillars with six workers), and to orphaned caterpillars (two caterpillars without ants). We used caterpillars from a xerophylic population of P. alcon, and both local hosts, M. sabuleti and M. scabrinodis, testing the possibility of host switch between these two host ant species during larval development. Most of the caterpillars were successfully readopted by alien ants, and survived well. Our results suggest higher ecological plasticity in host ant usage of this butterfly than generally thought. View Full-Text
Keywords: alcon blue; Maculinea rebeli; Myrmica; cuckoo strategy; adaptation; multi-host; mimicry alcon blue; Maculinea rebeli; Myrmica; cuckoo strategy; adaptation; multi-host; mimicry
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Tartally, A.; Somogyi, A.Á.; Révész, T.; Nash, D.R. Host Ant Change of a Socially Parasitic Butterfly (Phengaris alcon) through Host Nest Take-Over. Insects 2020, 11, 556.

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