The downfall of mating: the effect of mate-carrying and flight muscle ratio on the escape ability of a pierid butterfly

  • Maria AlmbroEmail author
  • Cecilia Kullberg
Original Paper


In many species, the ability to evade predators is known to be periodically impaired by increased weight loads due to feeding and reproduction. Not only may extra weight reduce escape speed, but feeding and mating can also make the prey more noticeable to visually hunting predators. A number of butterfly species mate for hours, and if a mating couple is disturbed, one of the butterflies is responsible for flying, whereas its partner remains still. This study investigated the ability of male Pieris napi butterflies to fly while mating, with the prediction that mate carrying impairs flight ability compared to single flying males and that males with relatively high flight muscle ratios (FMR; male thorax mass/male + female body mass) will have better flight performance in copula. Our results clearly show that whereas single males always take off at steep angles and fly upwards, couples invariably have a negative take-off angle and rarely gain height. Moreover, landing height of the couples is positively associated with higher FMR. Hence, male flight ability when in copula is positively associated with a high relative thorax mass. Butterfly pairs may thus be at greater risk of predation as a consequence of their impaired flight ability, especially couples with critically low FMRs (<16%).


Butterflies Flight Flight muscle ratio Weight load Mating Predation risk 



We would like to thank C. Wiklund, B. Borg, H. Løvlie, J. Fitzpatrick, and R. Dean for comments on the paper. We are also grateful for comments and suggestions from two anonymous reviewers. The experiment complies with the current laws of the country in which they were performed. Financial support was received from the Swedish Research Council (to C.K).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of ZoologyStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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