Monday, February 20, 2012

Niphanda fusca: Raised by Ants

Introduction: Niphanda fusca are a species of parasitic butterflies. As caterpillars, they steal nutritional resources from a species of ant known as Camponotus japonicas. They first enter the ant’s nest and elicit parental care from the worker ants by secreting chemicals that mimic that of the Campontus japonicas. The caterpillars continue to be fed by the ants in the nest until pupation. [1]

Symbiont Description: The Niphanda fusca are members of Phylum Arthropoda, Class Insecta, Order Lepidoptera, and Family Lycaenidae. Generally small, they have wings colored blue, red, or orange. As an adult most gather nector from flowers or feed on honeydew from aphids. The eggs are laid on leaves of the flowers, and the resulting caterpillar is slug shaped. [2]

Host Description: Camponotus japonicas are Japanese mongynous carpenter ants. Niphanda fusca are host-specific for this particular species of ant. [3] The chemical secretions that elicit parental care are only compatible with the Camponotus japonicas. The caterpillars are completely reliant on the ants for protection and nutrition until pupation. [1] Without the ants, the caterpillars would not survive, and the species would risk extinction unless it adapted another way to gain resources.

Life cycle: Niphanda fusca feed on aphid honeydew in the earliest stages of their lives. This is different from many Lycaenidae who feed on plants. [1]The larvae emit a secretion from their endocrine glands. This secretion causes the ant to carry the larva back to the nest where it continues to care for it through winter. [1] In order to ensure care from the worker ants, the caterpillar secretes chemicals that mimic that of the male carpenter ants. [3] Research has also shown that the secretion emitted by the larvae, a mixture of glycine and glucose, creates a reward for the host ant and reinforces the continuous feeding by the worker ants. [1] Both of these mechanisms allow the N. fusca to gain as much care as the ant larvae as well avoid a host attack while inside the nest. The Niphanda fusca continue to gain nutrition from the ants until pupation. Pupation occurs after hibernation during the winter months, and the N. fusca pupae close in spring. [1] An average of 10 months is spent in the ant nest. [1]

Ecology: The reliance by N. fusca on the ant for protection and nutrition is not a strange occurrence. Most members of the family Lycaenidae have a dependent relationship with ants. [2] The secretion of amino acids by the larvae could be a way to mimic the ant larvae that take in protein from workers and release free amino acids back out to the nest for use, the amino acids secreted by the Niphanda fusca can be used as a source of nitrogen for the worker ants who feed the larvae. [1]

An example of host manipulation by a parasite: The parasitic relationship between Niphanda fusca and the ants is characterized by manipulation. The parasitic larvae secrete chemicals that elicit a change in behavior in the worker ants. The worker ants care for and feed the parasitic larvae as often as their own young.

[1] Wada, Ayako, Isobe, Yu , Yamaguchi, Susumu, Yamaoka, Ryohei, and Ozaki, Mamiko. “Taste-enhancing Effects of Glycine on the Sweetness of Glucose”. Chem. Senses (2001) 26 (8): 983-992. Oxford Journals Chemical Senses. Web. 15 Feb. 2012.
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[2] “Niphanda fusca”. Zipcodezoo, 31 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Feb 2012. <>.

[3] Hojo , Masaru K., Wada-Katsumata, Ayako, Akino, Toshiharu, Yamaguchi, Susumu, Ozaki, Mamiko, and Yamaoka, Ryohei. “Chemical disguise as particular caste of host ants in the ant inquiline parasite Niphanda fusca (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae).” Proc. R. Soc. B (2009) 276, 551-558. The Proceeding Royal Society Biological Sciences.Web. 15 Feb. 2012. <>.

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