, Volume 13, Issue 6, pp 865-880

Behavioral Adaptations to Pollen-Feeding in Heliconius Butterflies (Nymphalidae, Heliconiinae): An Experiment Using Lantana Flowers

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Abstract

Butterflies in the genera Heliconius and Laparus obtain fitness-related benefits from using amino acids derived from pollen. These butterflies have morphological features of the proboscis that facilitate pollen-feeding. Here we investigate behavioral characteristics potentially involved in pollen-gathering. Analysis of four behavioral characters showed that pollen-feeding species manipulate Lantana flowers faster and more thoroughly compared to non-pollen-feeding relatives. Although this suggests that pollen-feeding species are potentially more efficient in harvesting pollen, every butterfly tested successfully removed pollen from Lantana and non-pollen-feeding butterflies generally extracted larger amounts of pollen than Heliconius and Laparus. Morphological characteristics of the proboscis and the production of abundant fluid exudate help keep pollen attached in the proboscis for long periods of time—possibly key to Heliconius' and Laparus' ability to obtain amino acids from pollen. Our results, in concert with those of previous morphological analysis, indicate that behavioral and structural attributes associated with pollen-feeding in Heliconius and Laparus are subtle modifications of widespread butterfly characteristics and raise the question why other butterflies do not use pollen in their diet.