For Lycaenidae, size doesn’t matter

These little butterflies have never really put into my attention. Only two words to apply, ‘too small’. Lycaenidae, a family of the smallest butterflies, is so diverse with about 6000 species in the world. Despite the diversity, I feel a bit strange about this family.

From the forest of Buton, an island in the Southeast of Sulawesi, to the forest of Bukit Barisan Selatan in Sumatra, to a small garden around my house in Java, I have never seen the member of this family present at higher number than the swallowtails (Papilionidae) and the brush-footed butterflies (Nymphalidae). It seems that they prefer open areas. In Lambusango forest, Buton, I always watched them close to river banks or in degraded forest. At least to my knowledge, only 3 species were ever visited my garden. And still, I found it hard to find any information on the ecology of this group of butterflies. Does the small size makes them inconspicuous (not just to me) to ecologist?

Lycaenidae is a group of butterflies that show association with ants through mutualism, parasitic, or predatory relationship. The larvae of some species are guarded by ants but other species are also feed on ants. This shows that the group demonstrates interesting life history traits. Although not popular, several species were actually used as biological control of Lantana invasive bushes. This is interesting because in the areas that I visited, Lycaenidae particularly visited flowers of shrubs, weeds, or grasses. Some degree of co-evolution is showed here where the small size of both the flowers and the butterflies adapted to each other. In a disturbed forest in Buton, I found an Angled pierrot (Caleta caleta) visited Siam weed (Chromolaena odorata) or the Green-banded blues (Psychonotis piepersii) visited the small pink flower of Compositae, illustrated a perfect fit of each other. Far from this island, a Gram blue butterfly (Euchrysops cnejus) would visit the Euphorbia milii flower in my garden. For Lycaenidae, size does not matter because many flowers fit to their size are always available. Life is never too hard…..


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