Butterflies of Africa
Family - LYCAENIDAE
subfamily - LIPTENINAE
Tribe - MIMACRAEINI
Bunso, Ghana ©
The subfamily Lipteninae is wholly African in
distribution, and comprises of no less than 600 species, varying
from the tiny Eresiomera bicolor to the
dazzling 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.
comprises of about 15 species. The genus is unusual in that the
genitalia of the males are identical in all species ( within most
butterfly genera the genitalia differ greatly, and are used by
taxonomists as species indicators ). The individual species however
differ strongly in colour and pattern, and their status as full
species is confirmed by DNA analysis.
The male of
semirufa is very similar on the
upperside to Eresiomera bicolor, being
black, except for the upper half of the hindwing, which is bright
orange-red. The female is a dirty yellowish colour, with broad
blackish borders, and a black apex and costa. The under surface of
the wings is heavily dusted with ochreous scales in both sexes.
Mimeresia semirufa is found only in
Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana.
This is a scarce and localised species, found in relatively
undisturbed forests, at altitudes between about 100-400m.
The caterpillars feed on blue-green algae growing on the bark of
trees that have been colonised by
Crematogaster ants, with which they are assumed to have a
symbiotic relationship. The ants milk the larvae to obtain sugary
secretions from a gland on their backs. In return, the presence of
the ants is beneficial to the butterflies, providing them with a
degree of protection from parasitoid wasps and from small predatory
insects. The caterpillars of many Lycaenidae produce a "song" to
appease their normally aggressive ant hosts, by stridulating
chitinous areas of their bodies. It is likely that further studies
will also reveal this to be the case with Liptenids.
butterflies are rarely encountered during the daytime, when they
probably spend most of their time flying around the upper branches of
the "ant-trees", or feeding at extrafloral nectaries. In late
afternoon they go to roost hanging from thin dry twigs, usually about
2 metres above ground level.