Butterflies of Africa
STEMPFFER, BENNETT &
Family - LYCAENIDAE
subfamily - LIPTENINAE
Tribe - LIPTENINI
Hills, Ghana / Togo border
© Adrian Hoskins
The subfamily Lipteninae is wholly African in
distribution, and comprises of no less than 600 species, varying
from the tiny creamy yellow Liptena
xanthostola to the almost blindingly bright metallic blue
Epitola posthumus - a species which
with a wingspan of 65mm is massive by Lycaenidae standards.
The Lipteninae are
fascinating because of their association with "ant trees", i.e.
trees which support colonies of Crematogaster
ants. As with most other Lycaenidae species, the caterpillars of
Liptenids have ants in almost constant attendance. The ants "milk" a
sugary substance from a gland on the caterpillar's back, and in
return for this reward the caterpillar benefits because the presence
of the aggressive ants deters other insects such as wasps and flies
that would otherwise attack them.
Liptena comprises of 65 known species,
all of similar size ( circa 35mm wingspan ), but varying in colour
from pure white to yellow, orange or black. Some species such as
pearmani have only very feint markings,
while others are strongly patterned with dark wavy lines, spots or
patches of reddish-orange.
Liptena pearmani is one of about half a
dozen cream coloured species, most of which have a dark apex on the
upperside. It is a rare butterfly, found only in the Volta / Togo
mountains of Ghana and in western Nigeria. The image above
apparently is the only existing photograph of this species.
This is a rainforest species, and tends to be encountered along the
minor tracks and paths in denser parts of the more intact forest
blocks. It is found at altitudes between about 100-500m.
The caterpillars browse on the trunks of their "ant-trees". These
trees can be any one of a number of species from different plant
families. There is conjecture about what exactly it is that the
larvae feed upon - e.g. some writers consider them to feed on
lichens, while others insist it is blue-green algae. It may even be
the case that they feed on microscopic fungi, and it is possible
that ants play a part in cultivating these fungi.
butterflies behave similarly to most other small Liptenids - they
spend long periods at rest, sitting at the tips of leaves or tendrils
with their wings held erect. Periodically they fan their wings in such
a way that the apexes of the forewings meet underneath the abdomen.
This is done in a very deliberate way which appears to indicate that
it is some sort of signal, and at least one writer has suggested that
the butterflies may be signalling to the ants. It seems more likely
however that the behaviour serves a simpler purpose, e.g. it may be
necessary to invert the wings in this way to facilitate the release of
pheromones to attract mates.