Female butterflies prefer males bearing bright iridescent ornamentation

Darrell J. Kemp*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

114 Citations (Scopus)


Butterflies are among nature's most colourful animals, and provide a living showcase for how extremely bright, chromatic and iridescent coloration can be generated by complex optical mechanisms. The gross characteristics of male butterfly colour patterns are understood to function for species and/or sex recognition, but it is not known whether female mate choice promotes visual exaggeration of this coloration. Here I show that females of the sexually dichromatic species Hypolimnas bolina prefer conspecific males that possess bright iridescent blue/ultraviolet dorsal ornamentation. In separate field and enclosure experiments, using both dramatic and graded wing colour manipulations, I demonstrate that a moderate qualitative reduction in signal brightness and chromaticity has the same consequences as removing the signal entirely. These findings validate a long-held hypothesis, and argue for the importance of intra- versus interspecific selection as the driving force behind the exaggeration of bright, iridescent butterfly colour patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1043-1047
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1613
Publication statusPublished - 22 Apr 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Female mate choice
  • Hypolimnas
  • Lepidoptera
  • Ornamentation
  • Sexual selection
  • Ultraviolet


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