Assessing Benefits To Both Participants In A Lycaenid-Ant Association

We examined interactions between the ant Iridomyrmex nitidiceps and the lycaenid butterfly Paralucia aurifera in southeastern Australia, and present data supporting the hypothesis that both participants benefit from their association. In the field, lycaenids persisted only on those host plants that ants subsequently colonized. In the laboratory, lycaenid larvae reared with ants were 31-76% heavier, developed 37% faster, and commonly completed one or two fewer instars than larvae reared without ants. Ant tending also resulted in 20% heavier pupae, 69% shorter pupal duration, and 5% larger adults as measured by forewing length; adults were not significantly different as measured by body length. We hypothesize that these positive effects occurred largely because ant-tended lycaenid larvae spent more time feeding than did untended larvae. Field data documented that ants colonized host plants only after lycaenid larvae were present, indicating that ants actively maintained the association. In laboratory experiments, 40% more ant workers survived when lycaenid larvae were present than when they were absent, although ant mass was not significantly affected. We hypothesize that the survivorship effects occurred because ants consumed the lycaenid's nectary gland secretions, which contained considerable amounts of glucose and amino acids. Our results show that lycaenids can benefit from ants in ways other than, or in addition to, protection from natural enemies and that they incur minimal developmental costs from associating with ants.