Date of Award

Summer 2003

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological Sciences


Ecological Sciences

Committee Director

Deborah A. Waller

Committee Director

Naomi E. Pierce

Committee Member

Alan Savitzky


Less than 1% of all Lepidoptera are aphytophagous; of these, a considerable proportion is found in the family Lycaenidae. The aphytophagous Lycaenidae are believed to have arisen from a mutualistic template involving ant attendance. With this association firmly in place, it is a relatively simple shift to exploitation, either of the ants themselves, through active carnivory on the brood/trophallactic feeding from adults, or by carnivory on ant-tended homopterans, with little to no interference by the ants. Among lycaenids, aphytophagy has arisen several times; most spectacularly in the subfamily Miletinae, where all of the approximately 150 species are presumed or known to be aphytophagous. With the exception of the North American species Feniseca tarquinius , the subfamily is restricted to the Old World, in particular, Africa and South-East Asia. The focus of this study was a comprehensive review of aphytophagy in the Miletinae, viewed in light of phylogenetic and ecological patterns. A representative genus, Thestor, endemic to southern Africa, was chosen for intense phylogenetic study, where the relationships of nearly all 29 morphological species and subspecies were analyzed, employing the molecular genes Cytochrome Oxidase 1 (CO1) and subunit 5 of nicotinamide dinucleotide (ND5). The resultant phylogenies generated were used to inform life-history characters where known. The enigmatic Nearctic species, Feniseca tarquinius, was studied for life-history traits in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and New Brunswick, with particular emphasis on diet and vibrational signaling. It was shown that the species produces the longest known acoustic pulse train of any lycaenid. SEM examination of final instar larvae was also undertaken for purposes of comparison with a close relative, the Palaearctic species Taraka hamada. An aphytophagous habit adds an extra dimension of complexity to a feeding habit, involving both the prey item and its host-plant resource, rendering its practitioners immediately susceptible to extinction pressure. Conservation concerns for the Lycaenidae, with special emphasis on aphytophagous forms, were hence considered, from the perspective of IUCN Red Data listing, and suggested causes for decline, and appropriate conservation measures discussed, and applied to specific case studies.