There are over 4,750 species of Lycaenidae in the world. Some species are widely distributed and common, but many members of this family have specific habitats and are rare.
Many species have unusual bonds with ants (myrmecophilia), which protect the caterpillars from predators and parasites. In exchange, the caterpillars feed the ants with sweet secretions produced by special glands in their abdomens.
The very pretty Karner blue (Lycaeides melissa samuelis) is one of the “stars” on the list of endangered species in North America. It became rare (or even disappeared, according to some) in southwestern Ontario as a result of the disappearance of lupines, the only plant that Karner blues feed on. In collaboration with the Metro Toronto Zoo, experts are working to reintroduce these two species in the province.
The bog elfin (Callophrys lanoraieensis) lives mainly in peat bogs, where black spruce grow. The caterpillars feed on the spruce needles. The species owes its Latin name to the fact that it was described for the first time from specimens gathered in the Lanoraie peat bog, in Quebec.
The harvester’s (Feniseca tarquinius) diet also determines its habitat. It lives in areas where alders grow, since it feeds on the woolly aphids that live in these shrubs. The caterpillars eat the aphids themselves, while the butterflies feed mainly on the honeydew produced by the aphids.