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Ultraviolet and yellow reflectance but not fluorescence is important for visual discrimination of conspecifics by Heliconius erato

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posted on 2023-06-09, 17:16 authored by Susan D Finkbeiner, Dmitry Fishman, Daniel Colaco OsorioDaniel Colaco Osorio, Adriana D Briscoe
Toxic Heliconius butterflies have yellow hindwing bars that – unlike those of their closest relatives – reflect ultraviolet (UV) and long wavelength light, and also fluoresce. The pigment in the yellow scales is 3-hydroxy-DL-kynurenine (3-OHK), which is found in the hair and scales of a variety of animals. In other butterflies like pierids with color schemes characterized by independent sources of variation in UV and human-visible yellow/orange, behavioral experiments have generally implicated the UV component as most relevant to mate choice. This has not been addressed in Heliconius butterflies, where variation exists in analogous color components, but moreover where fluorescence due to 3-OHK could also contribute to yellow wing coloration. In addition, the potential cost due to predator visibility is largely unknown for the analogous well-studied pierid butterfly species. In field studies with butterfly paper models, we show that both UV and 3-OHK yellow act as signals for H. erato when compared with models lacking UV or resembling ancestral Eueides yellow, respectively, but attack rates by birds do not differ significantly between the models. Furthermore, measurement of the quantum yield and reflectance spectra of 3-OHK indicates that fluorescence does not contribute to the visual signal under broad-spectrum illumination. Our results suggest that the use of 3-OHK pigmentation instead of ancestral yellow was driven by sexual selection rather than predation.


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The Journal of Experimental Biology




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