Wing coloration and reflectance in Morpho butterflies as related to reproductive behavior and escape from avian predators
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- Young, A.M. Oecologia (1971) 7: 209. doi:10.1007/BF00345212
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Different species of large tropical butterflies belonging to the genus Morpho vary dramatically in both the amount of blue color on their wings and the associated irridescence (reflectance). This paper discusses how such a morphological properties may be related to both courtship behavior and effective means of reducing predation (especially by birds) in the low density adult populations. Essentially, the hypothesis is advanced that territorial species of Morpho can afford to possess very conspicuous wing coloration that may facilitate courtship interactions, in addition to spacing the territorial male population over the suitable habitat. While territoriality may be favored by natural selection, such behavior can only evolve if the species involved possess effective means of reducing predation, because territoriality in morphos is an extremely predictable form of behavior, toward which predators can easily orient. Two alternate hypotheses are advanced to account for low predation in a territorial morpho, Morpho amathonte, a species in which males are very bright and showy. The first hypothesis, which is more consistent with traditional ideas on the function of bright colors in morpho wings, maintains that predators learn quickly to avoid these butterflies as prey, since they are very difficult to catch. The second hypothesis, suggests that conspicuous territorial male morphos actually employ pursuit-stimuli to invite birds to attack and be subsequently unsuccessful.