Large blue butterflies
Large blue butterflies belong to the genus Maculinea and are members of the large butterfly family Lycaenidae. Many butterflies in this family have some sort of association with ants. Large blue butterflies have an unusual life cycle in which most of their larval life is spent as parasites inside ant nests. All large blue butterflies are rare because of this interaction with ants. There are several species of Large blue butterflies in Europe and Northern Asia. The species of large blue butterfly we study at the Universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus is the Alcon blue (Maculinea alcon). The life-cycle of the Alcon blue is shown below. Click on the small pictures or the text to see larger pictures and to find out more.
The populations of all large blue butterflies are small and fragmented. The amount of fragmentation and the migration of butterflies between populations can have major consequences for their evolution and conservation. At the University of Aarhus we are investigating the populations of the Alcon Blue butterfly in Denmark using genetic techniques. Click here to find out more.
The caterpillars of the Alcon blue butterfly can only survive if they are adopted into an ant nest and fed by the ants. In order to do this the caterpillars have to send signals to the host ants which tell them that they should adopt and care for the caterpillars, although this is against the interest of the ants. At the University of Copenhagen we are investigating these signals, and how they might influence the ants. Click here to find out more.
The alcon blue is unusual among the large blue butterflies in that it uses more than one host ant species. Almost all other parasitic butterflies only exploit a single ant species. At the Universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus we are investigating how the Alcon blue is able to use different host ants, and what consequences this may have for the evolution and conservation of large blue butterflies. Click here to find out more.
Much of the research at the Universities of Copenhagen and Aarhus on large blue butterflies is done in collaboration with other research groups, particularly the other members of the EU-TMR network on social evolution. Click here to learn more about these collaborations.