Trojan Butterflies

The name is alcon. Maculinea alcon.

Like a suave British superspy, or maybe even a trojan horse or the proverbial cute abandoned baby left on a doorstep, some butterfly larvae mimic the chemicals of ants to get worker ants to bring them home to the nest.

But that’s not all: as Francesca Barbero and Luca Pietro Casacci discuss in their recent quick study in Physics Today, the adoptees also trick their foster parents with sound. After arriving in their adopted home, the trojan butterflies start mimicking the sounds of ants too. One type (M. alcon) mimics the queen in order to get the royal treatment (e.g., they are fed in preference to the ant larvae). Another (M. teleius) lays low until it becomes a beautiful butterfly, and it then starts eating the ant brood.

Bonus (not terribly related): In the song Puss ‘n Boots by Adam Ant, the main character goes to London and becomes the queen.

Improbable Research