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Would you raise the baby that ate your siblings? - Francesca Barbero


965 Questions Answered

TEDEd Animation

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You might not guess it, but Alcon blue butterflies are just one of over 200 parasitic butterfly species, all of which target ants. And their offspring live highly unusual lives, tricking their way into ant colonies using mimicry. So, how do these butterflies do it— and why? Francesa Barbero explores the strategies caterpillars use to survive among ants on their journey to become butterflies.

Additional Resources for you to Explore

Although fiercely defended by workers, ant societies can be infiltrated by social parasites, which exploit their resources. One such parasite is the butterfly Maculinea alcon! The life cycle of Maculinea butterflies is as interesting as it is complex and has been filmed by several documentarists. How do Maculinea larvae elude the tough defenses of the ant colony and fool the ants to such a great extent that, in situations of food shortage, workers sacrifice their own larvae to feed the butterfly parasite? Read more information about the chemical and acoustical strategies used by the parasite to live in the host ant colonies. 

Are you interested in knowing more about where to meet Maculinea butterflies? Click here! Maculinea butterflies are rare and some species are endangered. Successful science-led conservation strategies for these fascinating species must be based on an excellent understanding of the intimate interactions between the butterfly and its ant host. However, habitat alteration due to human activities remains one of the species’ main threats. Learn more about the successful reintroductions of Maculinea butterflies in the UK and the Netherlands.

Watch these TED-Ed Lessons to learn more about butterfly metamorphosis and ant social organization.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Francesca Barbero
  • Director Jagriti Khirwar, Raghav Arumugam
  • Narrator Pen-Pen Chen
  • Animator Raghav Arumugam
  • Art Director Jagriti Khirwar
  • Music Salil Bhayani, cAMP Studio
  • Sound Designer Amanda P.H. Bennett, cAMP Studio
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Sazia Afrin
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Cella Wright
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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