Divergent warning patterns influence male and female mating behaviours in a tropical butterfly

Chi Yun Kuo, Lina Melo-Flóres, Andrea Aragón, Morgan M. Oberweiser, W. Owen McMillan, Carolina Pardo-Diaz, Camilo Salazar, Richard M. Merrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Traits under divergent ecological selection that also function during mating can be important in maintaining species boundaries. Few studies have considered mutual mate choice, where both males and females base mating decisions on the same trait. Wing colouration in Heliconius butterflies evolved as a warning signal but also functions as a mating cue. We investigated the contribution of visual preference to assortative mating in an aposematic butterfly Heliconius cydno in the context of reproductive isolation with its sympatric, visually distinct relative Heliconius melpomene. Heliconius cydno have conspicuous white bands on their forewings, whereas those of H. melpomene are red in colour. We predicted that both sexes of H. cydno contributed to assortative mating by exhibiting visual preference towards conspecific wing colouration. We analysed published and new data from preference experiments, in which males were presented with conspecific and H. melpomene females. We also recorded female responses and mating outcomes in choice experiments, involving conspecific males with either the original white or artificially painted red forewing bands. Both sexes of H. cydno responded more positively towards the conspecific colouration, and males strongly preferred females of its own colours. In contrast, male colouration did not predict mating outcomes in female choice experiments. As courtships are initiated by males in butterflies, our findings suggest that female visual preference might be of secondary importance in H. cydno. Our data also suggest that the contribution of visual preference to reproductive isolation might be unequal between H. cydno and its sympatric relative H. melpomene.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)267-273
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Evolutionary Biology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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