Contest behavior in territorial male butterflies: Does size matter?

Darrell J. Kemp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Citations (Scopus)


Although intrasexual contests generally favor bigger or stronger individuals, the relevance of body size to war of attrition-type disputes between weaponless animals such as butterflies is unclear. In this study I aimed to investigate the significance of size in this context by studying territorial contests in Hypolimnas bolina (L.), a species that exhibits consistent seasonal plasticity in body size. In this species adult age is positively correlated with large size in spring but with small size in autumn. This shift allowed independent evaluation of the relevance of each variable (size and age) to intrasexual contest success. Observation of a population of marked individuals indicated that only age appeared important, with the winners of pair-wise contests significantly older than losers in both seasons, and with contests lasting longer when the age difference between the combatants was small. Age was also linked to residency; residents won 99% of all contests. This study suggests that size does not matter in these aerial disputes, but age and residency do. It is not yet possible to determine whether older butterflies are intrinsically better competitors, or whether they simply have greater opportunity to find a vacant territory.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)591-596
Number of pages6
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes


  • Aggression
  • Lepidoptera
  • Nymphalid
  • War of attrition

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