Alice R. Moraes, Harold F. Greeney, Paulo S. Oliveira, Eduardo P. Barbosa, André V.L. Freitas
Journal of Insect Science 12 (52), 1-18, (1 April 2012) https://doi.org/10.1673/031.012.5201
KEYWORDS: ant predation, Atlantic forest, butterfly, ejection behavior, fecal pellets, Hesperiidae, Immature stages, leaf shelter, Urticaceae
The Neotropical genus Urbanus (Hübner) (Lepidoptera: Hesperiidae) contains around 34 described species, and is widely distributed from the extreme southern United States to Argentina. Here, we describe the larval morphology and behavior of Urbanus esmeraldus (Hübner)(Hesperiidae) in Urera baccifera (Urticaceae), a plant producing food rewards and fleshy fruits that attract ants (including predacious species) in a Brazilian forest. Larvae pass through five instars and construct two kinds of leaf shelters. Experiments with ejected fecal pellets showed that these can serve as cues to ground—dwelling ants that climb onto host plants and potentially attack the larvae. Manipulation with pellets placed at different distances suggests that ejection behavior decreases larval vulnerability to ant predation. Larval preference for mature leaves may be related with increased predation risk at ant—visited young leaves. The study shows that a combination of natural history and experimental data can help understand the life history of a butterfly using a plant with high predation risk.