Signal design and courtship presentation coincide for highly biased delivery of an iridescent butterfly mating signal

Thomas E. White, Jochen Zeil, Darrell J. Kemp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Citations (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Sensory drive theory contends that signaling systems should evolve to optimize transmission between senders and intended receivers, while minimizing visibility to eavesdroppers where possible. In visual communication systems, the high directionality afforded by iridescent coloration presents underappreciated avenues for mediating this trade-off. This hypothesis predicts functional links between signal design and presentation such that visual conspicuousness is maximized only under ecologically relevant settings and/or to select audiences. We addressed this prediction using Hypolimnas bolina, a butterfly in which males possess ultraviolet markings on their dorsal wing surfaces with a narrow angular reflectance function. Males bearing brighter dorsal markings are increasingly attractive to females, but also likely more conspicuous to predators. Our data indicate that, during courtship (and given the ritualized wingbeat dynamics at these times), males position themselves relative to females in such a way as to simultaneously maximize three components of known or putative signal conspicuousness: brightness, area, and iridescent flash. This suggests that male signal design and display have coevolved for the delivery of an optimally conspicuous signal to courted females. More broadly, these findings imply a potential signaling role for iridescence itself, and pose a novel example for how signal design may coevolve with the behavioral context of display.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14-25
Number of pages12
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2014. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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