Phenotypic plasticity in field populations of the tropical butterfly Hypolimnas bolina (L.) (Nymphalidae)

Darrell J. Kemp*, Rhondda E. Jones

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Phenotypic plasticity may enable organisms to maximize their fitness in seasonally variable environments. However, in butterflies, seasonal polyphenism is often striking but functionally obscure. This paper addresses the possible adaptive significance of phenotypic variation in the tropical butterfly Hypolimnas bolina (L.) (Nymphalidae). Plasticity in body size and wing coloration can be elicited in this species under laboratory conditions, however it is not known how this plasticity is expressed in the wild. Moreover, adult H. bolina spend the winter dry season in a reproductive diapause, which allows certain predictions regarding the occurrence of seasonal plasticity. Based on consideration of the requirements of diapausing and directly developing individuals, we predicted that if seasonal plasticity in phenotype were adaptive, then overwintering individuals should be larger and darker than their directly developing counterparts. This prediction was largely - although not entirely - fulfilled. Dry season butterflies were duller and darker than their wet season counterparts (this plasticity was superimposed on a genetic colour polymorphism), however size plasticity varied geographically. Dry season adults were consistently larger than wet season adults in the tropical north, but not in the south. We use these findings to discuss the possible adaptive significance of seasonal variation in the colour and size of this tropical butterfly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-45
Number of pages13
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Body size
  • Diapause
  • Overwintering
  • Polyphenism
  • Sexual dimorphism
  • Wing pattern


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