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Lycaenidae facts for kids

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Peablue October 2007 Osaka Japan.jpg
Lampides boeticus
Scientific classification

The Lycaenidae are the second-largest family of butterflies, with about 6000 species worldwide. They are also called gossamer-winged butterflies.

The family includes many beautiful species. Some, like the Palos Verdes blue, are critically endangered. The Lycaenids were favourites of the Russian novelist and lepidopterist Vladimir Nabokov.


Lycaenid ant sec
Ant tending a lycaenid larva

Lycaenids are diverse in their food habits and apart from phytophagy, some of them are entomophagous feeding on aphids, scale insects, and ant larvae. Some lycaenids even exploit their association with ants by inducing ants to feed them by regurgitation, a process called trophallaxis. Not all lycaenid butterflies need ants, but about 75% of species associate with ants, a relationship called myrmecophily. These associations can be mutualistic, parasitic, or predatory depending on the species.

In some species, larvae are attended and protected by ants while feeding on the host plant, and the ants receive sugar-rich honeydew from them, throughout the larval life, and in some species during the pupal stage. In other species, only the first few instars are spent on the plant, and the remainder of the larval lifespan is spent as a predator within the ant nest. It becomes a parasite, feeding on ant regurgitations, or a predator on the ant larvae. The caterpillars pupate inside the ant's nest and the ants continue to look after the pupa. Just before the adult emerges the wings of the butterfly inside the pupal case detach from it, and the pupa becomes silvery. The adult butterfly emerges from the pupa after three to four weeks, still inside the ant nest. The butterfly must crawl out of the ant nest before it can expand its wings.

Several evolutionary adaptations enable these associations and they include small glands on the skin of the caterpillars called "pore cupola organs". Caterpillars of many species, except those of the Riodininae, have a gland on the seventh abdominal segment that produces honeydew and is called the "dorsal nectary gland" (also called "Newcomer's gland"). An eversible organ called the "tentacular organ" is present on the eighth abdominal segment (third segment of thorax in the Riodininae) and this is cylindrical and topped with a ring of spikes and emits chemical signals which are believed to help in communicating with ants.


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Mating Polyommatus semiargus
Eumaeus atalaPCCP20040417-4033A
Caterpillar of the Atala (Eumaeus atala)
Leaf Blue (Amblypodia anita) W IMG 2700
Leaf blue (Amblypodia anita) from Theclinae

Many taxonomists include only the Lycaeninae, Theclinae, Polyommatinae, Poritiinae, Miletinae and Curetinae under the Lycaenidae.

The tribe Aphnaeini of the subfamily Theclinae which includes the genus Chrysoritis is sometimes listed as separate subfamily.

A few authorities still include the family Riodinidae within the Lycaenidae. The monotypic former subfamily Styginae represented by Styx infernalis from the Peruvian Andes has been placed within the subfamily Euselasiinae of the family Riodinidae.

Other classifications notably include the Riodininae (e.g., Abisara echerius).
















Phylogeny of the family
  • Lipteninae (Afrotropical) may be ranked as a tribe of Poritiinae. (Liptenini)
  • Poritiinae (Oriental and Afrotropical)
  • Liphyrinae (mostly African, some Asian) may be ranked as a tribe of Miletinae. (Liphyrini) Selected species
  • Curetinae – sunbeams (Oriental or Palaearctic) selected species
  • Miletinae – harvesters (mostly African, or Oriental, some Holarctic). Probably all feed on aphids or their secretions.
    • Curetis thetis – Indian sunbeam
  • Theclinae – hairstreaks (usually tailed) and elfins (not tailed) (global) may be ranked as a tribe of Lycaeninae (Theclini) see the clade below right. Selected species
    • Arhopala - oakblues
    • Atlides halesus – great purple hairstreak
    • Eumaeus atala – Atala
    • Satyrium pruni – black hairstreak
  • Lycaeninae – coppers (Holarctic) selected species
    • Iophanus pyrrhias – Guatemalan copper
    • Lycaena boldenarum – boulder copper
    • Lycaena epixanthe – bog copper
    • Lycaena rauparaha – Rauparaha's copper
    • Lycaena dispar – large copper
    • Lycaena phlaeas – small copper
    • Lycaena heteronea - blue copper
  • Polyommatinae – blues (global) selected species

The fossil genus Lithodryas is usually (but not unequivocally) placed here; Lithopsyche is sometimes placed here but sometimes in the Riodininae.

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