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Social Parasitism – Department of Biology - University of Copenhagen

Social Evolution > CSE Research > Social Parasitism

Social Parasitism

Social insects are experts at gathering resources and storing them in their well-defended nests. Hence, it is not surprising that many other creatures make a living from exploiting these resources. These are the social parasites. Such exploitation involves overcoming the defences of the colony, often through deceiving the host into believing that the parasite is really part of the colony. Social parasites range from the closest relatives of the hosts, which have often lost their sociality (they often have no worker caste), to distantly related species, such as the Large Blue butterflies, that develop inside the nests of Myrmica ants, and which mimic the smell of the ant larvae. Studying the first type of social parasite can tell us a lot about how sociality evolves, by looking at how it breaks down, while the more distantly related parasites allow us to examine what is most important in colony integrity, coevolutionary arms races between social insects and their social parasites.

Model Organisms

Large blue butterflies

Lycaenid butterflies

Myrmica ants

Megalomyrmex ants

Fungus-growing ants


Behavioural experiments


Genetic analyses
Chemical analyses

Principal Investigator

David Nash

Associate Professor

PhD students

Anne Andersen

Project title:

Spatiotemporal and conservation

genetics of the large blue butterfly

MSc students


Majken G. Hansen