Researchers from the universities of León, Valencia, Oxford, Berlin, and the Institute of Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia, have discovered an unprecedented interaction between aphids and ants, in what constitutes the first known case of aggressive mimicry, and that It has been released in PNAS.
The aphids are small insects, which are phytophages of a good number of plants. Some establish associations with ants in what constitutes a typical case of mutualism (both participants benefit). The ants act as farmers, and provide hygiene and protection services to the herds of aphids they care for, which are freed from specialized predators such as ladybugs. On the other hand, the aphids feed on the sap of the plants and generate a sweet secretion, like a drop of honey, that they expel at the end of their abdomen and that is collected by their guardians.
The new research reveals that in the same aphid species two types of individuals coexist, different in shape and color and, most striking, in behavior. The ones act as usual and maintain their traditional cooperative relationship, but the others cheat the ants with a kind of smelly disguise, pretending to be their larvae to be transported to the breeding chamber and once there to parasitize the ant larvae Authentic, from those who suck the hemolymph (the equivalent in insects to the blood of mammals).
According to the researchers, it is the first time that an aphid is found that feeds on another insect and is also capable of synthesizing chemical compounds to deceive the ants.
It should be noted, the scientists point out, that the camouflage that allows this peculiar behavior is not based on the form or appearance, but fundamentally is of an olfactory nature, since ants are generally guided by chemical substances, and these types of Aphids are capable of generating a compound that deceives them.
Now it is necessary to investigate if this behavior is repeated in other species of aphids, of the many that are related to the group of ants studied.