Courtship behavior of Heliconius erato phyllis (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae) towards virgin and mated females: conflict between attraction and repulsion signals?


Previous observations of Heliconius erato phyllis females being intensively courted a few days after mating contradict the proposal of sexual repulsion caused by a male-transferred antiaphrodisiac. Furthermore, data on courtship in Heliconius butterflies are almost absent from the literature. In this work we aim to describe the courtship behavior of H. erato phyllis and to compare it towards virgin and mated females. Sexual interactions using both kinds of females were observed and filmed in seminatural conditions for subsequent analysis and quantification. Courtship of virgin and mated females differed qualitatively and quantitatively, but the results do not agree with the proposal of sexual repulsion. The differences found indicate that the courtship sequence towards mated females is interrupted in the transition that would lead to the behavior immediately prior to copulation, in such a way that the male continues courting the female in an intermediate phase. Preliminary tests even showed that older females, virgin or not, are much less courted by males. We suggest that there is a trade-off between an attraction pheromone, important for males to locate female pupae, and the male-transferred antiaphrodisiac, so that young, mated females may have both signals active.

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We are grateful to all the people who collaborated with rearing the individuals in the cage and laboratory (Adriano Ferreira, Gabriela Pasqualim, Janaína De Nardin, Julie Zanin, Nicolás O. Mega, and Pedro Vieira), and Professor Helga Winge for offering a fine space in her working area to install the cages used in the observations. We thank Professor Gilson R.P. Moreira and Luiz Ernesto Costa-Schmidt for suggestions that improved the final manuscript, and especially Nicolás O. Mega for discussions, suggestions, and productive criticism throughout most of this study. We also thank two anonymous referees for comments and criticisms on the first submission of this article. Finally, we thank the Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) for financial support.

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Correspondence to Aldo Mellender de Araújo.

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Klein, A.L., de Araújo, A.M. Courtship behavior of Heliconius erato phyllis (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae) towards virgin and mated females: conflict between attraction and repulsion signals?. J Ethol 28, 409–420 (2010) doi:10.1007/s10164-010-0209-1

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  • Courtship behavior
  • Antiaphrodisiac
  • Female attractiveness
  • Antagonistic signals
  • Butterflies