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Science. 2009 Feb 6;323(5915):782-5. doi: 10.1126/science.1163583.

Queen ants make distinctive sounds that are mimicked by a butterfly social parasite.

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Dipartimento di Biologia Animale e dell'Uomo Laboratorio di Zoologia, Turin, UniversitĂ  degli Studi di Torino, Via Accademia Albertina 13, 10123 Turin, Italy.


Ants dominate terrestrial ecosystems through living in complex societies whose organization is maintained via sophisticated communication systems. The role of acoustics in information exchange may be underestimated. We show that Myrmica schencki queens generate distinctive sounds that elicit increased benevolent responses from workers, reinforcing their supreme social status. Although fiercely defended by workers, ant societies are infiltrated by specialist insects that exploit their resources. 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. We conclude that acoustical mimicry provides another route for infiltration for approximately 10,000 species of social parasites that cheat ant societies.

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