, Volume 13, Issue 7-8, pp 709-719

Are European White Butterflies Aposematic?

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It has been suggested that the white coloration of Pieridae butterflies is a warning signal and therefore all white Pieridae could profit from a mimetic resemblance. We tested whether green-veined white (Pieris napi) and orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) butterflies benefit from white coloration. We compared their relative acceptability to wild, adult pied flycatchers (Ficedula hypoleuca) by offering live A. cardamines and P. napi together with two non-aposematic butterflies on the tray attached to birds' nesting boxes. Experienced predators equally attacked white and non-white butterflies, and the order of attack among the Pieridae was random. If anything, there was a slight indication that the female A. cardamines was the least favoured prey. Since birds did not avoid white coloration, we compared the palatability of these two species against known palatable and unpalatable butterflies by presenting them to great tits (Parus major). Pieris brassicae, which has been earlier described as unpalatable, was also included in the palatability test. However, there were no significant differences in the palatability of the butterflies to birds, and even P. brassicae was apparently palatable to the great tits. Our results do not unambiguously support the hypothesis that the white coloration of Pieridae would signal unpalatability. Nevertheless, in our last experiment, pied flycatchers often rejected or left untouched free flying P. napi and A. cardamines. This suggests that other features in a more natural situation, such as the agile flight pattern or odours might still make them unprofitable to birds.

This revised version was published online in July 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.