Journal of Insect Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 6, pp 1037–1051 | Cite as

The biology and ecology of the large blue butterfly Phengaris (Maculinea) arion: a review

  • Matthew P. Hayes


It has long been known that Phengaris (Maculinea) arion has a complex lifecycle involving the social parasitisation of ants. However, research triggered by the extinction of the original UK population of P. arion in 1979 has greatly enhanced our knowledge of this butterfly. Adults lay their eggs on Thymus spp. and ovipositional patterns seem to be dictated by host plant bud phenology and be independent of host ant presence. After feeding for around 3 weeks P. arion larvae fall to the ground and await adoption by host ants of the genus Myrmica. To achieve adoption P. arion larvae employ various forms of appeasement and mimicry, of which chemical and acoustic mimicry seem to be especially important for gaining colony integration and raising larval status respectively. The predatory larvae of P. arion then proceed to eat their host ants’ brood until they are ready to pupate. In the UK P. arion appears to be restricted to one primary host ant, Myrmica sabuleti, but across Europe a more complex pattern of host ant use seems to be occurring. In the UK the niche of M. sabuleti consists of closely cropped grassland and it is thought that a decline in these areas led to the extinction of P. arion in 1979. Scrub clearance and the implementation of grazing regimes has since enabled the successful reintroduction of P. arion to the UK, where sites are maintained to allow high densities of the specific larval host plant and host ant to co-occur.


Phengaris arion Myrmica sabuleti Social parasitism Ovipositional cues Host mimicry Host ant specificity Ecological niche Micro-climate 



I would like to thank my supervisor Professor Brian Huntley for providing guidance and support throughout the writing of this review.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological and Biomedical SciencesDurham UniversityDurhamUK

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