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Symbiosis

Describes a close and long-term relationship between different species.

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Lending A Helping Mandible
Teacher Contributed

Lending A Helping Mandible

A colony of fire ants (Solenopsis). They are well-known as an invasive species in the United States, but not every organism thinks they are so bad to have around.

When Is A Pest Not A Pest?

People familiar with fire ants (Solenopsis) know they are not to be trifled with. Between their painful bites and aggressive nature, most organisms that encounter fire ants turn tail and run (if they have tails...or legs). But not all organisms flee. Some South American butterflies think fire ants are pretty cool to have around.

Extension Investigation

Use the resources below to answer the following questions:

  1. What benefit does the butterfly (Aricoris propitia) gain from its association with fire ants? Think in terms of life history and what problems the fire ants solve for the butterflies.
  2. What benefit do the fire ants receive from their association with the butterflies? Think in terms of life history and what problems the butterflies solve for the fire ants.
  3. Can you think of other possible benefits that the fire ants or the butterflies might receive from this relationship? Design an experiment to see if your proposed benefit is realized in nature.
  4. Is the relationship between ants and butterflies unique to Brazil? What does this situation suggest about this relationship? Think in terms of commonalities and differences between ecosystems.
  5. In what sorts of environments do fire ants thrive? How is this related to them being considered agricultural pests?

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