The Maculinea are lycaenid butterflies found in Europe and Asia. The ecology of all members of the Maculinea genus is unusually complex, involving vital associations between their larvae and particular species of red ants from the genus Myrmica. Eggs are laid on certain food plants on which the Maculinea larvae feed. The fourth larval instar leaves the plant, drops to the ground, and is "adopted" by ants which carry the caterpillar off into their nest, where the Maculinea caterpillar and pupae spends 11 or 23 months as a predator of the ant brood. Each Maculinea species depends on a specific food plant and a specific Myrmica ant host, the ants themselves displaying highly specific habitat requirements. For details see Elmes & Thomas (1992), or Thomas (1995).

Maculinea species Initial Food Plant Myrmica Host Biotope
Maculinea arion
(Large Blue)
Thymus ssp., Origanum vulgare Myrmica sabuleti warm, dry grassland
Maculinea rebeli Gentiana cruciata Myrmica schenkii, others? very dry grassland
Maculinea alcon
(Alcon Blue)
Gentiana pneumonanthe Myrmica rubra, M. scabrinodis, M. ruginodis wet (acid) grassland
Maculinea nausithous
(Dusky Large Blue)
Sanguisorba officinalis Myrmica rubra wet grassland, fen
Maculinea teleius
(Scarce Large Blue)
Sanguisorba officinalis Myrmica scabrinodis wet grassland, fen

Conservation status

Conservation Status of the European Maculinea species

sources: * Van Swaay & Warren (1999); ** Thomas (1995), *** IUCN (2000)

Maculinea species Habitats Directive (Annex) European Conservation Status * Global / European threat *, ***
Maculinea arion  + (IV) SPEC 3 LR (nt) / EN
Maculinea rebeli --- SPEC 1 VU / -
Maculinea alcon  --- SPEC 3 LR (nt) / VU
Maculinea nausithous + (II & IV) SPEC 3 LR (nt) / VU
Maculinea teleius
+ (II & IV) SPEC 3 LR (nt) / VU
SPEC 1: Species of global conservation concern; highest conservation importance in EU
SPEC 3: Species threatened in Europe, headquarters both within and outside Europe
EN: Endangered
VU: Vulnerable
LR (nt): Lower Risk (near threatened); taxa which are close to qualifying for Vulnerable (EN, VU & LR: new IUCN categories)