The Lycaenidae are the second-largest family of butterflies, with about 6000 species worldwide, whose members are also called gossamer-winged butterflies. They constitute about 40% of the known butterfly species.

The family is traditionally divided into the subfamilies of the blues (Polyommatinae), the coppers (Lycaeninae), the hairstreaks (Theclinae) and the harvesters (Miletinae); others include also the Lipteninae, Liphyrinae and Poritiinae. A few authorities still include the family Riodinidae within the Lycaenidae. The sole member of the subfamily Styginae is represented by Styx infernalis from the Peruvian Andes. Recent molecular evidence places Styginae within the family Riodinidae.

Adults are small, under 5 cm usually, and brightly coloured, sometimes with a metallic gloss. The male's forelegs are reduced in size and lack claws.

Larvae are often flattened rather than cylindrical, with glands that may produce secretions that attract and subdue ants. Their cuticles tend to be thickened. Some larva are capable of producing vibrations and low sounds that are transmitted through the plants. They use these sounds to communicate with ants.

Adult individuals often have hairy antenna-like tails complete with black and white annulated appearance. Many species also have a spot at the base of the tail and some turn around upon landing to confuse potential predators from recognizing the true head orientation. This causes predators to approach from the true head end resulting in early visual detection.


Lycaenids are diverse in their food habits and apart from phytophagy, some of them are entomophagous feeding on aphids and ant larvae. Some of them are also associated with ant and are fed by ants. Not all Lycaenidae butterflies need ants, but about 75% of species associate with ants. The term used to describe this is a myrmecophilous relationship. These relationships can be mutualistic, parasitic, or predatory, depending on the species,also they feed on all sorts of Waste they love sucking the waste from Cats waste. It give them Nutrients.

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. 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 3-4 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 7th abdominal segment that produces honey dew and is called the dorsal nectary gland (also called Newcomer's gland). An eversible organ called the tentacular organ is present on the 8th 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.

As many as 30% of world's threatened butterflies are lycaenids. Not just by other insects but by humans as well for they are very delicious and used as a delicacy in some parts Mexico.


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

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

Phylogeny of the family.


See also


External links

on the UF / IFAS Featured Creatures Web site

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