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The holly (blue) and the ivy

Not the greatest of photos but a fascinating little tableau nontheless. Searching ivy today I came across what I thought were ants predating a caterpillar. However, on looking more closely I realised the ants were not attacking the caterpillar and that said larva was holly blue, a species which I have never seen in this stage before. Many blue butterflies are known to have an association with ants but I hadn't realised that holly blue fell into this category. It seems that the larvae often fall prey to a parasitic wasp which can seriously effect the population and so it produces a chemical which is attractive to ants, the idea being presumably that they keep the wasp at bay.

The ants themselves are pretty interesting as well! These are jet black ants (Lasius fuliginosus) and they were only added to the reserve list on Sunday from this same patch of ivy. They are quite a distinctive species on close viewing with a shiny black body and heart shaped 'face'. Jet black ant queens, instead of founding colonies in the conventional manner, sneak into the nest of a related species, kill the queen and then get the workers to rear her young, a lifestyle known as 'social parasitism'. The host in this case is a species called Lasius umbratus which is itself a social parasite of the common black ant Lasius niger! Wheels within wheels. 

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