The immature caterpillar stages are actively tended by multiple species of ants, including the bullet ant Paraponera clavata, and were observed feeding on the extrafloral nectaries of the bamboo. Pupation of A. annulifera then occurs on the host plant near the base of the bamboo.
We also observed the butterflies stealing bamboo sap secretions from the ants, a potential form of kleptoparasitism which was previously unknown to occur with these adult butterflies.
Perhaps the butterflies are utilizing a pheromone from their larval stage, potentially allowing the caterpillars to take advantage of the ants, which would normally attack other invading insects. The three red spots on the butterfly wing also look strikingly like the red ants that they associate with, and perhaps this wing pattern serves as a form of mimicry (if a butterfly looks like red ants that bite and sting, a bird may be less inclined to eat it). This is just a hypothesis at the moment, and future work should test this putative mimicry wing pattern and chemical signals. We hope to continue investigating this fascinating species, because there certainly seems to be more to this tropical butterfly than meets the eyes.
Source: Entomology today
Writer: Aaron Pomerantz