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Myrmecophilous butterflies utilise ant–treehopper associations as visual cues for oviposition
- MOTA, LUÍSA L., OLIVEIRA, PAULO S.
- Ecological entomology 2016 v.41 no.3 pp. 338-343
- Formicidae, Lycaenidae, Membracidae, Schefflera, branches, butterflies, females, immatures, insect larvae, mutualism, natural enemies, oviposition, oviposition sites, phytophagous insects
- 1. Selection of a safe oviposition site is important for herbivorous insects whose immature stages have limited mobility. Female herbivores rely on environmental cues for this choice, and presence of natural enemies or mutualistic partners may be important in this process. 2. Some butterflies have mutualistic interactions with ants (myrmecophily), in which caterpillars offer a nutritional liquid and gain protection against natural enemies. Participants in butterfly–ant mutualisms may utilise signals to initiate interactions, but the use of visual cues by ovipositing myrmecophilous butterflies remains uncertain. 3. Larvae of facultatively myrmecophilous Parrhasius polibetes (Lycaenidae) feed on Schefflera vinosa, and females prefer to oviposit near aggregations of the ant‐tended treehopper Guayaquila xiphias, where caterpillars survive better due to increased ant attendance. Given the conspicuousness of ant–treehopper associations, it was investigated whether butterflies use them as visual cues for oviposition and, if so, which participants of the association are used as cues: ants, treehoppers, or both. 4. Experiments using dried insects on paired branches revealed that females visually recognise ants and ant–treehopper associations, using them for egg‐laying decisions. However, presence of a treehopper aggregation alone had no effect on oviposition choices. 5. This is a first insight into the importance of visual discrimination for ovipositing myrmecophilous butterflies. The results show that facultative mutualisms can be important enough to promote a behavioural adaptation (visual detection of ants) reinforcing the interaction. Our research highlights the importance of the behavioural interface within complex multispecies systems.