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A cuckoo-like parasitic moth leads African weaver ant colonies to their ruin

Abstract : In myrmecophilous Lepidoptera, mostly lycaenids and riodinids, caterpillars trick ants into transporting them to the ant nest where they feed on the brood or, in the more derived "cuckoo strategy", trigger regurgitations (trophallaxis) from the ants and obtain trophic eggs. We show for the first time that the caterpillars of a moth (Eublemma albifascia; Noctuidae; Acontiinae) also use this strategy to obtain regurgitations and trophic eggs from ants (Oecophylla longinoda). Females short-circuit the adoption process by laying eggs directly on the ant nests, and workers carry just-hatched caterpillars inside. Parasitized colonies sheltered 44 to 359 caterpillars, each receiving more trophallaxis and trophic eggs than control queens. The thus-starved queens lose weight, stop laying eggs (which transport the pheromones that induce infertility in the workers) and die. Consequently, the workers lay male-destined eggs before and after the queen's death, allowing the colony to invest its remaining resources in male production before it vanishes.
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Alain Dejean, Jérôme Orivel, Frédéric Azémar, Bruno Hérault, Bruno Corbara. A cuckoo-like parasitic moth leads African weaver ant colonies to their ruin. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2016, 6, ⟨10.1038/srep23778⟩. ⟨hal-02630869⟩



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