Butterflies and ants
A new study has revealed a strange relationship between an Amazonian butterfly species and its neighboring ants — the butterflies steal the ants' yummy and nutritious goo. Here's a look at the first images showing a behavior called kleptoparasitism between adult butterflies and ants.
Researchers Aaron Pomerantz and Phil Torres encountered the bizarre relationship while working at a field station in the Peruvian Amazon. They noticed that the butterflies were always spotted hanging around ants, and wanted to understand why.
Though the butterfly species, Adelotypa annulifera, was discovered a century ago, little was known about its life cycle. So the researchers set out to find the larvae, or caterpillar of the species, which had never been spotted before.
After weeks of research, the team peeled back a leaf on a bamboo plant and found the larvae, then studied their behavior to understand their life cycle.
The team took stunning photos of the insects throughout their life cycle, and found that the caterpillars have a tentacle nectary organ, which produces a nutritious mixture of amino acids and sugars that ants often feed on.
It turns out that the caterpillars and a ants may have a mutually beneficial relationship. The caterpillars produce a tasty snack of amino acids and sugars, and the ants do bodyguard duty for the caterpillars.
Ants and larva
Here, an ant and caterpillars of the species nestle together inside the bamboo leaf.
Ants watch over the larvae
Here, bullet ants, which are known for their painful stings, watch vigilantly over the caterpillars.
Here, the larvae hang out in close association with the ants.
Ants and caterpillars
The ants and caterpillars interact.
As the caterpillars morph into butterflies, however, the relationship changes. The butterflies continue to mooch off the ants, stealing the sticky sap of the bamboo plant from the ants.