Large Blue Butterfly : The Wolf in Ant’s Clothing

The large blue butterfly (Maculinea arion – or Phengaris arion, depending on who you ask) is both beauty and the beast. Beauty because … well, it’s a pretty little butterfly, so what more could you ask for? The beast because it’s also such a master of deception, infiltration and carnivory it could be the antagonist in a sci fi horror movie. A fairly brutal sci fi horror movie at that.

So welcome to the world of a butterfly that is both parasite and predator, combining the tendencies of the cuckoo and the wolf. Oh, and it spends a chunk of its life pretending to be an ant.

Sometimes Nature’s just plain weird … And wonderful, of course.

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Hit the View Post button to see what the large blue looks like, learn more about its bonkers life and explore the frankly mind-blowing world of myrmecophiles in all their almost uncountable variety …

Here it is, emphasizing the ‘beauty’ part of its nature:

Photo by gailhampshire on

And the underside of its wings are even prettier, if anything:

Photo by gailhampshire on

You’d never guess such a fine-looking creature was the result of such a ferocious backstory …

But before we get to that backstory, a little detour that I nearly mentioned in the podcast but didn’t: you can find the large blue butterfly referred to by two different scientific names around the internet: Maculinea arion and (less often, I think) Phengaris arion. The reason for the lack of consistency is to do with how species get named, how those names get revised and the rules scientists follow in coming to a consensus about what name to use – the kind of stuff that interests me, but maybe not everyone else. What I think is a fun little detail, though, which people might not be aware of, is that there is an actual international organisation that exists to resolve these sorts of disagreements, inconsistencies, and so on. The place you go to get a decision, when you need such a thing, on what the right scientific name for an animal is: The International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. I love that such a thing exists. And I love that they have an open, unresolved case regarding what exactly the Large Blue Butterfly should be called: Case 3508!

Anyway, further info

Read about the Large Blue in general, at the excellent UK Butterflies website

Explore the acoustic mimicry of ants by blue butterflies, in Acoustical mimicry in a predatory social parasite of ants F. Barbero et al. ; Journal of Experimental Biology 2009

AND in Corruption of ant acoustical signals by mimetic social parasites, Thomas et al., Communicative & Integrative Biology, 2010 (Which also has a nice, brief overview of the whole ‘blue butterflies playing tricks on ants’ thing).

Explore (if you dare!) the amazing world of myrmecophily, at Wikipedia

And here’s a nice blog post about an inquiline myrmecophile that is, itself, an ant: the kind of adorable Shining Guest Ant.


Opening Theme: Running Waters by Audionautix (Jason Shaw), from Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

Closing Theme: Acoustic Meditation by Audionautix (Jason Shaw), from Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

Eik Satie’s Gymnopedie No 1 by Kevin Macleod ( Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

I Am Running Down the Long Hallway of Viewmont Elementary and CGI Snake by Chris Zabriskie. Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

Joachim Andersen’s 24 Etudes for Flute, performed by Paolo Dalmoro, via Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

somber beauty by fwimmygoat (FGRC). Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

SFX based on sounds uploaded to by inchadney (cuckoo) and jswonger (record scratches). Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

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