This Thieving Butterfly Turns Vicious Red Ants Into Brainwashed Bodyguards

These red ants are brainwashed slaves to this particular butterfly. Phil Torres

This type of behavior is known as “kleptoparasitism,” which literally means thieving parasite. Remarkably, this means that whether it’s a larvae or a fully-grown winged beast, the butterfly Adelotypa annulifera is able to force any ant it wishes into a life of submission.

As observed in other species, this butterfly is able to use specialized organs to produce both nutritional resources for the ants, as well as semiochemicals – chemicals that the ants receive as “command messages.” These Machiavellian marvels are also known to be able to acoustically communicate with the ants, effectively meaning that they have several ways in which they can literally brainwash them into doing their bidding.

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This butterfly often steals nutritious sap from the ants, who can be seen here feeding from the bamboo reservoir. Phil Torres

Incredibly, this isn’t the only trick that A. annulifera has up its sleeve: The red markings on its wings look a lot like the body shape of the red ants they typically associate with. This makes it the first butterfly known to science with the shape of a completely different insect in its wings, and the researchers think that it’s another predator prevention strategy.

“The idea is: if a butterfly looks like red ants (which bite and sting) then a predator such as a bird may be less likely to attack it,” Pomerantz added. This butterfly, then is the only known example of one that co-exists, mimics, and steals from ants. What a clever, conniving little mischief-maker.

Co-author Phil Torres, a conservation biologist at Rice University, along with Aaron Pomerantz, explains the new discovery. The Jungle Diaries via YouTube

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