Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Adonis Blue larva

Adonis Blue larva with ants, Polyommatus bellargus
On Saturday morning I visited Woods Mill reserve and met a couple who were watching a grass snake hidden in grass by the path. It was eating a toad! They disturbed it after I left and I saw the snake heading to the lakeside very fast. I went back and found the toad sitting in the grass, glistening.

While Dan Danahar was shooting the Grizzled skipper video with me at Mill Hill, he suggested we visited the chalk bank by the A27 where he has recorded Adonis Blue in previous years. Inspired by Crispin Holloway’s fabulous video of the Adonis Blue larva at Malling Down, we could search for an Adonis larva. We arrived on site Saturday afternoon at 2:30pm and proceeded to search. Within 10 minutes I spotted one on an ant hill at the bottom of the slope. It was attended by its ants and Dan started filming the ants’ activity on the larva. While this was going on I saw a pristine Green Hairstreak nectaring on adjacent blackthorn. Dingy Skippers plus Wavy-barred Sable and Little Roller micro moths were also around. Also a Muslin Moth larva.

Thomas & Lewington’s excellent book “The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland” gives a fascinating account of the symbiotic relationship between the ant and the Adonis larva. The following is paraphrased from the book:

The ants drum on mechano-receptors with their antennae which prompts the larva to release honeydew from a honey-gland. It is thought that a volatile chemical is released from a pair of tentacle organs to attract the ants when the larva moves around. The caterpillar also produces a subsonic ‘song’ which is sensed by the ants. The ants protect the larva from predators.

Our Adonis larva was attended by red ants, probably Myrmica sabuleti. I did see a black ant venture nearby but it did not stay around. Two days later there were only black ants on the ant hill and the larva had moved.

Dan’s video was made for the Buttlerflies of the Biosphere website and can be viewed here:
Crispin’s Malling Down video is here:
I returned to the site the following two days and made my own videos which can be viewed here:

As soon as I arrived on Sunday a Small Copper landed in front of me, my first of the year.
On Monday I couldn’t find the larva initially, but eventually spotted it 3 metres up the slope from the ant hill, moving west without its ants.
Saturday, Woods Mill:
Box Bug, Gonocerus acuteangulatus
Buff-tailed bumblebee, Bombus terrestris
Grass Snake, Natrix natrix
Common Toad, Bufo bufo being eaten by Grass Snake
Toad in recovery
Cuckoo Flower, Cardamine pratensis
Cuckoo Flower
Dance fly, Empis species
fly, id needed
Goldfish, Carassius auratus auratus
Hairy Bittercress, Cardamine hirsuta
Hoverfly, Eristalis pertinax
Hoverfly, Syrphus ribesii
Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria
Peacock, Inachis io
Platycheirus species, male
A27 bank:
Adonis Blue larva with ant, Polyommatus bellargus
Carrion beetle, Silpha laevigata
Dingy Skipper, Erynnis tages
Dingy Skipper
Green Hairstreak, Callophrys rubi

Little Roller, Ancylis comptana
looper - moth larva, id needed
Wavy-barred Sable, Pyrausta nigrata
Adonis Blue larva with ants

Clausilia species
Common Milkwort, Polygala vulgaris
Wavy-barred Sable, Pyrausta nigrata
Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major
Dark-edged Bee-fly
Ground-ivy, Glechoma hederacea
Little Roller, Ancylis comptana
Pied Hoverfly, Scaeva pyrastri
Pill Woodlouse, Armadillidium vulgare
Pill Woodlouse
Adonis larva on the move
it is well camouflaged

head revealed

Dingy Skipper, Erynnis tages
Muslin Moth, late instar larva, Diaphora mendica


  1. Hello
    I'm French and i'm coding a software managing butterflies
    (picture, distribution map and caterpillar, description ...)
    May I use your caterpillar picture (Adonis Blue) to illustrate this butterflie ?
    If yes, what is your identity so I can be credited to this photo ?
    My email adresse : http://

    Thank you in advance
    Yann Yvinec

  2. Extraordinary photos of the Adonis being tended by ants. I've just been reading about the Dorsal Nectary Organ in the 7th abdominal segment of certain Lycaenids, so seeing your photos of myrmecophily in action just blew me away. Thank you!


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