, Volume 53, Issue 1, pp 27–33

Thermoregulation and the determinants of heat transfer in Colias butterflies


  • Joel G. Kingsolver
    • Dept. of Biological SciencesStanford University
  • Robert J. Moffat
    • Dept. of Mechanical EngineeringStanford University

DOI: 10.1007/BF00377132

Cite this article as:
Kingsolver, J.G. & Moffat, R.J. Oecologia (1982) 53: 27. doi:10.1007/BF00377132


As a means of exploring behavioral and morphological adaptations for thermoregulation in Colias butterflies, convective heat transfer coefficients of real and model butterflies were measured in a wind tunnel as a function of wind speed and body orientation (yaw angle). Results are reported in terms of a dimensionless heat transfer coefficient (Nusselt number, Nu) and a dimensionless wind speed (Reynolds number, Re), for a wind speed range typical of that experienced by basking Colias in the field. The resultant Nusselt-Reynolds (Nu-Re) plots thus indicate the rates of heat transfer by forced convection as a function of wind speed for particular model geometries.

For Reynolds numbers throughout the measured range, Nusselt numbers for C. eurytheme butterflies are consistently lower than those for long cylinders, and are independent of yaw angle. There is significant variation among individual butterflies in heat transfer coefficients throughout the Re range. Model butterflies without artificial fur have Nu-Re relations similar to those for cylinders. Heat transfer in these models depends upon yaw angle, with higher heat transfer at intermediate yaw angles (30–60°); these yaw effects increase with increasing Reynolds number. Models with artificial fur, like real Colias, have Nusselt numbers which are consistently lower than those for models without fur at given Reynolds numbers throughout the Re range. Unlike real Colias, however, the models with fur do show yaw angle effects similar to those for models without fur.

The independence of heat loss from yaw angle for real Colias is consistent with field observations indicating no behavioral orientation to wind direction. The presence of fur on the models reduces heat loss but does not affect yaw dependence. The large individual variation in heat transfer coefficients among butterflies is probably due to differences in fur characteristics rather than to differences in wing morphology.

Finally, a physical model of a butterfly was constructed which accurately simulates the body temperatures of basking Colias in the field for a variety of radiation and wind velocity conditions. The success of the butterfly simulator in mimicking Colias thermal characteristics confirms our preliminary understanding of the physical bases for and heat transfer mechanisms underlying thermoregulatory adaptations in these butterflies.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1982