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Published on Mar 13, 2012
When researchers in Brazil studied the early larval stages of the butterfly Aricoris propitia, they discovered that the larvae had solicitous caretakers—fire ants. Fire ants are a notorious invasive species and are frequently seen as pests, but A. propitia butterflies actively seek them out when choosing a location for egg-laying. The ants attend the larvae, transporting them to shelter during the day and carrying them out again at night to feed on the host plant. The ants appear to benefit from the larvae's "ant-organs," which dispense a type of nectar and a substance that produces a stimulating effect. Fire ants are extremely adaptable, especially in distressed environments, and as deforestation and development reduce the butterflies' habitats in Brazil's Amazon and Cerrado regions, this highly successful partnership may inform scientific understanding of the future distribution and success of the two species.
This latest Bio Bulletin from the American Museum of Natural History's Science Bulletins program is on display in the Hall of Biodiversity until April 11, 2012.
Science Bulletins is a production of the National Center for Science Literacy, Education, and Technology (NCSLET), part of the Department of Education at the American Museum of Natural History. Find out more about Science Bulletins at http://www.amnh.org/sciencebulletins/.