The Alcon blue butterfly (Maculinea alcon) parasitizes the nests of several Myrmica ant species. In Denmark, it uses M. rubra and M. ruginodis, but never M. scabrinodis. To further examine the basis of this specificity and local co-adaptation between host and parasite, the pattern of growth and survival of newly-adopted caterpillars of M. alcon in Myrmica subcolonies was examined in the laboratory. M. alcon caterpillars were collected from three populations differing in their host use, and reared in laboratory nests of all three ant species collected from each M. alcon population. While there were differences in the pattern of growth of caterpillars from different populations during the first few months after adoption, which depended on host ant species and the site from which the ants were collected, there was no evidence of major differences in final size achieved. Survival was, however, much higher in nests of M. rubra than in nests of M. ruginodis and M. scabrinodis, even for caterpillars from a population that is never known to use M. rubra as a host in the field. The caterpillars of M. alcon thus do not show local adaptation in their pattern of growth and survival, but instead show a pattern that may reflect different nestmate recognition abilities of the host ants, related to their sociogenetic organisation. The pattern of observed host ant use in the field seems to result from a combination of differences in local host availability and locally adapted infectivity, modulated by smaller differences in survivorship in the nests of the different host ants.
- Host specificity