Butterflies of Africa
Family - LYCAENIDAE
at extrafloral nectary,
Bobiri, Ghana ©
The subfamily Miletinae are fascinating because their caterpillars are
aphytophagous, i.e. they feed carnivorously, parasitically or on
animal by-products, rather than on vegetation. Much remains to be
learnt about their ecology, but it is known that the adults and larvae
of most species live in close association with ants and that the
larvae feed parasitically or carnivorously on Homoptera ( aphids,
coccids, psyllids and membracids ). Many of the Miletinae are involved
in complex 3-way symbiotic relationships with ants and Homoptera . One
Oriental species -
an extraordinary carnivorous larva that lives inside the nests of
weaver ants and voraciously devours the ant grubs.
sexes of all Miletinae species have fully functional forelegs, unlike
those of other Lycaenidae subfamilies, in which the tarsi of
males are fused, rendering the forelegs useless for walking.
in total about 150 species worldwide of which 100 are African. The
remaining species are mostly confined to the Oriental region, although
a few have ranges that extend into temperate Asia. In Africa the
subfamily is represented by 4 tribes: Liphyrini, Miletini, Spalgini
tribe Miletini is represented in Africa by just one genus
Megalopalpus which comprises of only 4
angulosus, simplex and
zymna. The upper surface of the wings are
pale beige, cream or silky white, with a conspicuous large black
apical patch. On the underside all species are light brown with
pale-edged maculae. The best identification characteristics of the
genus however are the anatomical features - the ovoid wings and the
very long and thin palpi from which the genus name
Megalopalpus is derived.
zymna is found across the African forest belt from Liberia to
Tanzania and Zambia.
This species is found in forest and dense savannah at altitudes up
to about 1000m.
The larvae are carnivorous,
feeding on Homoptera including the membracids
Leptocentrus, Anchon and
Nehala cicadellids. Phediole
ants are invariably in attendance. It is likely that the larvae are
'milked' by the ants for sugary secretions, although I know of no
adult butterflies flutter about almost incessantly among the forest
undergrowth until they locate an extrafloral nectary. These invariably
have membracids and Phediole ants in
attendance, but the Megalopalpus are
completely ignored by the ants, which are presumably appeased by
pheromones secreted by the butterflies.
Bobiri, Ghana ©