Our Treasure of the Month in December: The Ant Blue, © Marianne Espeland
Our treasure of the month belongs to a group of butterflies that have a particularly interesting interaction with ants. The caterpillars of the butterflies produce a secretion rich in sugar and amino acids, which the ants love as food. In return for providing nutrients, the ants protect the caterpillars against predators and parasites. The caterpillars of the African Ant Blue Lepidochrysops hypoleucus, like the European genus Maculinea, live most of the time in ant nests of ant brood.
But the one butterfly in the collection or even from the field is only one piece of the scientific puzzle that researchers at LIB are putting together. For example, by studying individuals of many related butterfly groups – for example subfamilies – completely new insights can be gained. Together with genetic studies could be shown that the traditional blue butterflies (subfamily Polyommatinae) are located within Theclinae, a subfamily often referred to as hairstreaks, with some species instead known as elfins or by other names. The old classification of the blue butterflies within the family, based on morphology, is being completely revised.