TitleAncient butterfly-ant symbiosis: direct evidence from Dominican amber
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1997
AuthorsDevries, PJ, Poinar, GO
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences
Type of ArticleJournal Article

Although symbiotic association with ants is pervasive in the butterfly families Lycaenidae and Riodinidae the age of these symbioses has never been estimated explicitly. Here we report the first known fossil riodinid caterpillar. This fossil can be dated minimally between 15 and 20 Ma old, and confidently placed in the extant genus Theope. Differing little from modern day Theope, this fossil from Dominican amber provides direct evidence that secretory and acoustical organs used by modern caterpillars to mediate symbioses with ants have been highly developed at least since the Miocene. This fossil therefore becomes the point of reference for future studies using molecular clock methods for dating these symbioses within the riodinid butterflies. Modern evidence, and the abundance of dolichoderine ants in Dominican amber (now extinct in the West Indies) imply that specialized symbiotic relationships between Theope caterpillars and these ants were likely in existence at least 15 Ma ago. The current distribution of neotropical riodinid butterfly and ant faunas indicates the extinction in the West Indies of at least two unrelated taxa that formed a tightly linked symbiotic association, which persisted to the present elsewhere.

URL<Go to ISI>://WOS:A1997XU82800006