Ontogenetic colour change signals sexual maturity in a non-territorial damselfly

Md Kawsar Khan*, Marie E. Herberstein

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Conspicuous colouration increases male reproductive success through female preferences and/or male–male competition. Despite the advantages of conspicuous colouration, inconspicuous male morphs can exist simultaneously in a population due to genetic diversity, condition dependence or developmental constraints. We are interested in explaining the male dichromatism in Xanthagrion erythroneurum damselflies. We reared these damselflies in outdoor insectaries under natural conditions and showed that this species undergoes ontogenetic colour changes. The younger males are yellow and change colour to red 6–7 days after their emergence. We took red and yellow male reflectance spectra and found that red males are brighter than yellow males. Next, we aimed to determine whether ontogenetic colour change signals sexual maturity with field observations and laboratory experiments. Our field observational data showed that red males are in higher abundance in the breeding territory, and they have a higher mating frequency than yellow males. We confirmed these field observations by enclosing a red and a yellow male with two females and found that yellow males do not mate in presence of red males. To determine whether colour change signals sexual maturity, we measured mating success of males before and after colour changes by enclosing a single male at different age (day 3-day 7) and colour (yellow, intermediate and red) with a single female in a mating cage. Males did not mate when yellow but the same male mated after it changed colour to red, suggesting the ontogenetic colour change signals sexual maturity in this species. Our study shows that male dichromatism can be age-dependent and ontogenetic colour change can signal age and sexual readiness in non-territorial insects.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-58
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020


  • animal communication
  • developmental colour change
  • scramble mating system
  • sexual dichromatism
  • sexual selection

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