Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Extramural Research

Grantee Research Project Results

Grantee Research Project Results

The Role of Chemical Mimicry in the Ecology and Evolution of Symbioses Between Lycaenid Butterfly Caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) and Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)

EPA Grant Number: U915660
Title: The Role of Chemical Mimicry in the Ecology and Evolution of Symbioses Between Lycaenid Butterfly Caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) and Ants (Hymenoptera: Formicidae)
Investigators: Lohman, David J.
Institution: Harvard University
EPA Project Officer: Edwards, Jason
Project Period: May 1, 1999 through May 1, 2003
Project Amount: $72,206
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (1999)
Research Category: Fellowship - Life Sciences , Academic Fellowships , Biology/Life Sciences



The objectives of this research project include identifying the pheromones responsible for ant-specificity in varied ant-lycaenid caterpillar symbioses, determining the degree to which these pheromones have acted as an evolutionary constraint in the focal genus, Ogyris, and increasing understanding of the evolution of ecological specialization in the focal genus, Jalmenus.


Gas chromatography-mass spectroscopy is being used to determine the chemical structures of each species' suite of hydrocarbon pheromones, and the hydrocarbon profiles will be compared statistically using principle components analysis. Bioassays in which ants are made to tend novel caterpillars-by applying the pheromones of caterpillars normally found with that ant—may confirm that these chemicals are causing the "adoption" behavior of caterpillars by ants. Assessments of recognition pheromones as an evolutionary constraint and as the determinants of ant-specificity will be made by comparing relevant chemical profiles from species in the butterfly genera Jalmenus and Ogyris with their respective associated ants in a phylogenetic context. Molecular markers will be employed to assess inbreeding and population structure in phylogenetically paired ant-generalist/ant-specialist lycaenid butterfly pairs.

Expected Results:

Results from data collected should indicate that the degree of similarity between the cuticular hydrocarbon recognition pheromones of the caterpillars and those of their attending ant species' brood determines whether a given ant species will attack or not attack a particular lycaenid species, a factor that may determine ant specificity.

Supplemental Keywords:

chemical communication, coevolution, myrmecophily, chemical ecology., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Entomology, wildlife, Molecular Biology/Genetics, Biology, butterfly caterpillars, pheromones, local adaptation, chemical mimicry, ants, bioassays, symbiotic evolution

Top of Page

The perspectives, information and conclusions conveyed in research project abstracts, progress reports, final reports, journal abstracts and journal publications convey the viewpoints of the principal investigator and may not represent the views and policies of ORD and EPA. Conclusions drawn by the principal investigators have not been reviewed by the Agency.

Jump to main content.