Nav: Home

Butterflies: Agonistic display or courtship behavior?

September 05, 2016

A study shows that contests of butterflies occur only as erroneous courtships between sexually active males that are unable to distinguish the sex of the other butterflies. These findings by Tsuyoshi Takeuchi from Osaka Prefecture University in Japan were highlighted in a review1 article in the Journal of Ethology, the official journal of the Japan Ethological Society, published by Springer.

Males of various butterfly species compete over mating territory via prolonged aerial interactions. Their contest behavior has previously been explained by the "war of attrition" model in the context of game theory, where two contestants perform costly displays until one of them reaches its limit, or cost threshold, and gives up. However, butterflies lack weapons or any obvious means to attack their opponent and thus it is difficult to explain why they perform aerial displays that impose costs not on their opponent but on themselves.

Takeuchi and his collaborators found in their previous study2 that there is no evidence that males of territorial butterflies can discriminate the sex of flying conspecifics. Considering the inability to distinguish the sex of their opponents, the male aerial interactions of territorial butterflies should be viewed as prolonged courtship behavior between males chasing each other. They wrongly assume that their opponent is a receptive female and they are not being accepted.

This framework provides a prediction that a contest should occur only between flying males and not between sitting males. Takeuchi reviewed past research on competition over mating opportunity in butterflies. He found that it supported the erroneous courtship theory as expected, revealing that "air combats" take place over mating territory between flying males but contests do not occur when males are sitting around a female or a female pupa.

Assumptions based on human senses can sometimes be misleading in our understanding of animals. Based on observational and experimental results, the author provides controversial but an important framework to understand butterfly behavior. The applicability of this logic to other taxa remains to be investigated.
-end-
References:

1. Takeuchi, T. (2016). Agonistic display or courtship behavior? A review of contests over mating opportunity in butterflies, Journal of Ethology. DOI 10.1007/s10164-016-0487-3

2. Takeuchi, T., Takeuchi, T. Yabuta, S. Tsubaki, Y. (2016). The erroneous courtship hypothesis: do insects really engage in aerial wars of attrition, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. DOI 10.1111/bij.12770

Photo: Two males of Chrysozephyrus smaragdinus (Lepidoptera: Lycaenidae) in "air combat" | © Tsuyoshi Takeuchi

Springer

Related Butterflies Articles:

UC biologist looks at butterflies to help solve human infertility
UC biologist helps decode the structural complexities of male butterfly ejaculate and co-evolving female reproductive tract.
1976 drought revealed as worst on record for British butterflies and moths
Scientists at the University of York have revealed that the 1976 drought is the worst extreme event to affect butterflies and moths in the 50 years since detailed records began.
Study reveals how pesticide use and climate affect monarch butterflies
An analysis of data in Illinois has found a link between higher county-level use of an herbicide called glyphosate and reduced abundance of adult monarch butterflies, especially in areas with concentrated agriculture.
Gehry's Biodiversity Museum -- favorite attraction for the butterflies and moths in Panama
Ahead of Gehry's Biodiversity Museum's opening in October 2014, Ph.D.
Female promiscuity in butterflies controls paternity
The eggs of some butterfly and moth species vary to give females control over the paternity of their offspring, according to new research published today.
Movement of rainforest butterflies restricted by oil palm plantations
Scientists at the University of York have found that oil palm plantations, which produce oil for commercial use in cooking, food products, and cosmetics, may act as a barrier to the movement of butterflies across tropical landscapes.
Butterflies: Agonistic display or courtship behavior?
A study shows that contests of butterflies occur only as erroneous courtships between sexually active males that are unable to distinguish the sex of the other butterflies.
Urbanization affects diets of butterflies: NUS study
A study led by researchers from the National University of Singapore revealed that most tropical butterflies feed on a variety of flower types, but those that are 'picky' about their flower diets tend to prefer native plants and are more dependent on forests.
Butterflies use differences in leaf shape to distinguish between plants
The preference of Heliconius butterflies for certain leaf shapes is innate, but can be reversed through learning.
Butterflies' diet impacts evolution of traits
A new study led by University of Minnesota researcher Emilie Snell-Rood finds that access to some nutrients may be a star player in shaping traits related to fitness such as fecundity and eye size over the long term.

Related Butterflies Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#521 The Curious Life of Krill
Krill may be one of the most abundant forms of life on our planet... but it turns out we don't know that much about them. For a create that underpins a massive ocean ecosystem and lives in our oceans in massive numbers, they're surprisingly difficult to study. We sit down and shine some light on these underappreciated crustaceans with Stephen Nicol, Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania, Scientific Advisor to the Association of Responsible Krill Harvesting Companies, and author of the book "The Curious Life of Krill: A Conservation Story from the Bottom of the World".