Maculinea alcon (Denis & Sciffermuller, 1775) Alcon Blue or Alcon Large Blue, Lungenenzian-Ameisenblauling auch Kleiner Moorblauling, Azure des mouilleres ou Protee
Distribution and biological peculiarities in Armenia: The species is found in Europe and Northern Asia. There are questions about taxonomy of the form which inhabits Caucasus and Transcaucasia: some authors think that in this region the M. alcon is replaced by M. rebeli(Hirschke, 1905). We follow the taxonomy of Stradomski, who together with other authors considers these two species M. alcon and M. rebeli as ecological forms of one species. The justification behind is the identity of the genitals (Gorbunov, 2001, Stradomski, 2005), and almost complete identity of the mitochondrial COI gene (Als et al., 2004; Fric et al., 2007). Armenia is inhabited by subspecies M. a. monticola (Staudinger, 1901). The species has a patchy distribution throughout the country occupying mainly meadows above timberline, however, in North-eastern regions it inhabits also clearings in the forest, thus taking the elevation range from 1500 to 2300 m a.s.l. Like other species of Maculinea, the caterpillars of M. alcon depend on support by certain ants. Females lay eggs on the flowers of Gentiana cruciata. Alcon larvae leave the host plant when they have grown sufficiently (4th instar) and wait on the ground below to be discovered by ants Myrmica scabrinodis and M. sabuleti. The larvae emit surface chemicals that closely match those of ant larvae, causing the ants to carry the Alcon larvae into their nests and place them in their brood chambers. Once adopted into a nest, Alcon larvae are fed the regurgitations of nurse ants. This parasitic method is known as the "cuckoo" strategy and is an alternative to the predatory strategy employed by other members of Maculinea genus such as M. arion. The butterflies are on wing from late June to late July, giving one generation per year.
Population dynamics: The species is slightly uncommon within typical habitat. Population trend during 2003-2013 demonstrates moderate decline, most probably related to the habitat degradation and the mowing regime. Although the host plant of the species Gentiana cruciata is not eatable for the livestock but overgrazing causes decrease of plants in the meadows and subsequently - change of the humidity, which affects Gentiana cruciata. Also the total mowing of the plants in the habitat causes removal of the host plant in the period of larval growing. Lack of studies of ant's state in Armenia doesn't allow making conclusions about current state of the host ant species, and should be a subject of additional investigations.
Conservation measures: The species is included in the IUCN Red List as Endangered, in European Red List as Near Threatened, and in Red Book of Armenia as Vulnerable (VU B1a+B2a). Alcon Blue is not included in Appendices of CITES and Bern Conventions. Review of its conservation status in Armenia suggests no changes from the previous assessment (2010). Distribution range of Alcon Blue in Armenia is partly covered by Lake Sevan, Lake Arpi, and Dilijan National Parks, and by Gnishik Protected Landscape, and also by Emerald Sites: Lake Sevan, Lake Arpi, Jajur, and Dilijan. The species is presented in Artanish-Shorzha Prime Butterfly Area. The proposed conservation measures include: (1) identification of new Prime Butterfly Areas and their further transformation into new Emerald Sites; (2) development of management plans for the existing emerald sites; (3) development of alternative grazing schemes, which will not cause meadow degradation; (4) development of meadow friendly mowing schemes; (5) study of state of host ants: Myrmica scabrinodis and M. sabuleti; and (5) continuation of monitoring of the Alcon Blue.