Butterflies learn to speak like ants

Marco Gherlenda/University of Turin, Italy

Butterflies learn to speak like ants

We don’t think of ants and butterflies as big talkers. But critical conversations occur between Maculinea caterpillars and Myrmica ants. Ants carry the 2-week-old caterpillars into their nests, where the caterpillars mimic the sounds made by queen ants and so get red carpet treatment. In 2009, researchers discovered that worker and queen ants have distinct calls and that caterpillar intruders get more food, care, and protection than the ants’ own larvae—even when food is scarce—by making queenlike noises themselves. Now, that team has tested 12 other related butterfly species for their ant-speak expertise. Even those that do not rely on ants for food and shelter make the queenlike sounds, they report today at the 168th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Indianapolis. They suggest that many arthropods may use sound to fool their ant hosts.

(Audio credits: Francesca Barbero/University of Turin, Italy)

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