Caterpillars Mimic Ants’ Noises

Ants play a fundamental role in the maintenance of terrestrial ecosystems in which they exist. These ecosystems exhibit unique complex communication mechanisms, which assist in maintaining mutual interaction among the different colonies of ants. The trait of mimicking the sounds produced by the queen ants by caterpillars came into being as an evolutionary response aimed at countering the existing territorial distribution of ant species and food resources associated with them. In essence, this evolution factor serves to reflect the queen’s ability to generate certain distinct noises or sounds, which elicit the production of benevolent responses from worker ants, in order to reinforce the queen’s social status (Bonelli et al, 2009). For instance, “Sounds produced by pupae and larvae of the parasitic butterfly Maculinea rebeli mimic those of queen ants more closely than those of workers, enabling them to achieve high status within ant societies” (Bonelli, 2009).

This shows that the mimicry effect has enabled the caterpillar to create its own social standing, which in essence adapts it to the new environment. In contemporary practice, the evolutionary processes follow unique patterns of change that are essentially established upon the occurrence of similar host-parasite behavioral responses mechanisms. For instance, the characteristic response of the ants to the sounds produced by the caterpillars without due consideration being given to their phylogenetic relationships. Moreover, the evolutionary processes of adaptation depended upon the exploitation of the existing food chain through development of potential symbiotic relationships that later turned to be parasitic in nature. For example, “The adult butterfly is free living and oviposits on a specific food plant(s), on which the first three larval instars feed. On entering the fourth and final instars, weighing just 1-2% of its ultimate biomass, the small larva (hereafter called the caterpillar) falls from its plant and secretes semio-chemicals that mimic the surface hydrocarbons of Myrmica ants, causing forager that encounters it to carry the caterpillar to the brood chambers of the underground ant nest”(Barbero et al, 2009).

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In this context, evolutionary practices have undergone changes through the formation of a false symbiotic association, which later turns out to be parasitic led to an emancipation of the entire the adaptation process. This can be seen in the effort of the M. rebelli caterpillars and pupae to produce the noises similar to the one initiated by the distinct queen noises, thus making the workers to display a guarding behavior, and this successfully enabled the M. rebelli to parasitize the ants’ nest (Cobb, 2009). On the contrary, the evolution processes fundamentally exploited the natural selection capabilities among the species, which was by virtue of the niche or ecosystem of the species. To illustrate this, according to the Darwin’s bicentenary year, an analysis of the host-parasite relations existing therein shows tremendous effect brought about by natural selection as exhibited by the exquisite adaptations portrayed by parasites in attempt to combat their hosts (Cobb, 2009).

The caterpillars exhibit a distinct form of evolution processes that been fundamentally driven by the occurrence of similar chemicals identities, which ants use as a communication mode. According to Thomas et al (2010), “…it appears that colony itself established by distinctive semio-chemicals, but the top hierarchical status of the queens within each colony is signaled, at least by part, by acoustics.” In addition, another factor was the establishment of a mimicry potential over a significant time with an aim of prompting formal acceptance from the new community. For instance, “The young stages of Maculinea appear to mimic both processes: caterpillars infiltrate and are accepted as members of host societies by employing chemical mimicry, but once established raise their social status above that of immature ants by using acoustic mimicry” (Thomas, J. et al, 2010).

Other additional evolutionary perspectives indicate that the changes took place over a long time; hence, they did not go through a rapid transformation. For example, data from a recent research established that once the M. rebeli was carried to thee ant nest, the ‘ant queen acted as though this new entrant was a rival queen, prompting the workers to behave as if the new M. rebeli was a high-ranking ant (Cobb, 2009). This behavior of the queen shows potential resistance to the new status quo, prompting the guarding behavior of the ants.

Moreover, no chemical explanation could be established to explain this phenomenon, which further leads to development of other notions that the caterpillar might be fundamentally imitating the queen (Cobb, 2009). Moreover, there are significant benefits accompanying the formation of this type of parasitic association. This is especially on account of survival and competition factors amid limited food resources. To illustrate this, the evolution process through acoustical mimicry may have as well taken place in other significant social parasite groups as a means of survival through infiltration within established ant colonies/societies, as seen in taxa, such as, Orthoptera and Staphilinid beetles that exhibit sound production capabilities (Thomas, J. et al, 2010). Hence, the infiltration fostered survival and the preservation of certain forms of species that may have been become extinct through predation.

Finally, the formation of this evolutionary association had its own fundamental repercussions. This was especially on account of exploitation of the new colonies by changing the existing loyalty to the queen. This came after establishing a new social status that rivals that of the ant queen. Mathews Cobb (2009) observes that, “the system can be exploited by parasites, which imitate the chemicals produced by the ants and thereby gain access to the nest.” Moreover, the evolution led to the ants behaving in a manner in which they are no longer sensitive to the intrusion of their territory. For example, “In the case of the caterpillar of the Maculinea rebeli butterfly (the Mountain Alcon blue), the mimicry is so precise that Myrmica schenki ants that come across a caterpillar will pick it up and bring it back to the nest, as though it was an ant larva” (Cobb, 2009).

The development of such kind of confusion affects the status quo of the ants’ society.