Butterfly Larvae Control Nectar-Addicted Ants by Controlling the Effect of Dopamine

First Posted: Aug 21, 2015 12:05 PM EDT

It turns out that lycaenid butterfly larvae can, surprising, control ants. Entomologist Dan Crosfield and Researchers have found that the larvae, which are in a symbiotic relationship with ants, can control the effect of dopamine by supplying the ants with nectar.

Lycaenid butterflies and ants are representative examples of mutualism, in which different species benefit from the activities of the other. The larvae of lycaenid butterflies secrete a nectar rich in sugars and amino acids, thereby supplying ants with a source of nutrition, whereas the ants in turn protect the larvae from their natural enemies. However, these benefits are not necessarily balanced since the ants can find alternative sources of food. However, the larvae are completely dependent on the ants for protection.

In order to see whether the larvae possessed another mechanism to keep the ants from leaving, the researchers investigated the behavior of the two species.

The scientists found that there was a reduction in locomotor activity in ants that ingested nectar. This reduction caused the ants to stay around the larvae later. In addition, the researchers found that the ants were more aggressive.

Surprisingly, the researchers found that the ants that ate the nectar had a decrease in the levels of dopamine, which modulates various behaviors in animals. Moreover, a similar reduction in movement activity was observed in ants administered a drug that suppresses dopamine release.

The findings reveal that the mutualistic relationship between the ants and the larvae is largely maintained by the manipulation of the larvae. This is important to note when it comes to this type of insect behavior.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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