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Butterflies trick ants into raising young

The Alcon blue butterfly has found a way to get ants to raise its offspring, researchers in Denmark report.
Image: A caterpillar of Maculinea alcon, having recently emerged from a flower of Gentiana pneumonanthe is carried back to a nest of the ant Myrmica rubra by a foraging worker ant.
A caterpillar is carried back to a nest by a foraging worker ant. David Nash
/ Source: The Associated Press

Call it the cuckoo of butterflies. Like the well-known birds, the Alcon blue butterfly has found a way to get others to raise its offspring. Researchers in Denmark report that the large blue butterfly has managed to produce larvae with a chemical coating similar to that of the local Myrmica rubra ants.

The butterflies deposit their larvae on marsh gentian plants where exploring ants find them, identify the chemical coating, and take the butterfly larvae back to the ant colony and feed them until they grow up and leave, the researchers report in Thursday's edition of the journal Science.

The researchers, led by David R. Nash of the University of Copenhagen, added that elsewhere in Europe the Alcon butterfly uses a different ant species to raise its young.