Butterflies and ants: The communicative domain

K. Fiedler, B. Hölldobler, P. Seufert

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

72 Scopus citations


Associations with ants, termed myrmecophily, are widespread in the butterfly family Lycaenidae and range from mere co-existence to more or less specific mutualistic or even parasitic interactions. Secretions of specialized epidermal glands are crucial for mediating the interactions. Transfer of nutrients (carbohydrates, amino acids) from butterfly larvae to ants plays a major role, but manipulative communication with the help of odour signals is also involved. By means of myrmecophily, lycaenid butterflies largely escape ant predation, and certain species gain protection through attendant ants or achieve developmental benefits from ant-attendance. Benefits to the ants range from minimal to substantial food rewards. While most lycaenid species maintain facultative relationships with a variety of ant genera, highly specific and obligatory associations have convergently evolved in a number of butterfly lineages. As a corollary, communication systems are largely unspecific in the former, but may be highly specialized in the latter. The sophisticated communication between obligate myrmecophiles and their host ants is tightly connected with the evolutionary rise of specialized life-cycles and thus is a source of augmenting diversity within the butterflies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)14-24
Number of pages11
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Communication
  • Ecology
  • Evolution
  • Formicidae
  • Lycaenidae
  • Mutualism
  • Parasitism
  • Symbiosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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