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Aggressive mimicry coexists with mutualism in an aphid [PNAS]

by Frédéric Magné - published on , updated on

The best known relationship between ants and aphids consists in aphids providing ants with honeydew while receiving hygienic services and protection in return. We report an unprecedented aphid–ant interaction in which one of the two clonally produced root-dwelling morphs of the aphid Paracletus cimiciformis imitates the cuticular hydrocarbons of Tetramorium ant larvae, inducing ants to transport the aphids to their brood chamber, where they suck on ant larva hemolymph. To our knowledge, this strategy constitutes the first known case of aggressive mimicry in aphids. Moreover, because the alternative morph maintains a “conventional” relationship with ants, our findings are unusual in that they report, within the same species (and within a single clone), the coexistence of two evolutionary strategies at disparate points in the mutualism–antagonism continuum.

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