Butterflies can seem friendly and harmless. But at least one type has learned to raise its young as parasites, tricking ants into feeding it and giving special treatment.
The pupae of the European butterfly Maculina rebeli exude a scent that mimics the ants and make themselves at home inside the ant nest. Once they become a caterpillar they even beg for food like ant larvae, researchers report in Friday’s edition of the journal Science.
But, not content just to be fed, the butterflies even manage to demand special treatment, Jeremy A. Thomas of Britain’s University of Oxford and colleagues report.
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It turns out that ant queens make subtle sounds that signal their special status to worker ants. The caterpillars have learned to mimic those sounds, the researchers say, earning high enough status to be rescued before others if the nest is disturbed.
In times of food shortage, nurse ants have been known to kill their own larvae and feed them to the caterpillars pretending to be queen ants, they added. …