Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 41, Issue 7, pp 662–669 | Cite as

Southern Monarchs do not Develop Learned Preferences for Flowers With Pyrrolizidine Alkaloids

  • Marina Vasconcelos de Oliveira
  • José Roberto Trigo
  • Daniela Rodrigues


Danaus butterflies sequester pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs) from nectar and leaves of various plant species for defense and reproduction. We tested the hypothesis that the southern monarch butterfly Danaus erippus shows innate preferences for certain flower colors and has the capacity to develop learned preferences for artificial flowers presenting advantageous floral rewards such as PAs. We predicted that orange and yellow flowers would be innately preferred by southern monarchs. Another prediction is that flowers with both sucrose and PAs would be preferred over those having sucrose only, regardless of flower color. In nature, males of Danaus generally visit PA sources more often than females, so we expected that males of D. erippus would exhibit a stronger learned preference for PA sources than the females. In the innate preference tests, adults were offered artificial non-rewarding yellow, orange, blue, red, green, and violet flowers. Orange and yellow artificial flowers were most visited by southern monarchs, followed by blue and red ones. No individual visited either green or violet flowers. For assessing learned preferences for PA flowers over flowers with no PAs, southern monarchs were trained to associate orange flowers with sucrose plus the PA monocrotaline vs. yellow flowers with sucrose only; the opposite combination was used to train another set of butterflies. In the tests, empty flowers were offered to trained butterflies. Neither males nor females showed learned preferences for flower colors associated with PAs in the training set. Thus, southern monarchs resemble the sister species Danaus plexippus in their innate preferences for orange and yellow flowers. Southern monarchs, similarly to temperate monarchs, might not be as PA-demanding as are other danaine species.


Visual signals Flower visitors Insect cognition Danaini Nectar Dihydropyrrolizines Sex pheromones Chemical defense Monocrotaline 



We thank Bruna C.M. Ramos for assistance with data analysis and use of the R environment. We also are grateful to Leonice Coelho at the Departamento de Química Inorgânica / IQ / UFRJ for measuring the reflectance of the colored artificial flowers and the background. Pedro Paulo Ferreira, Lucy de Oliveira, and João Paulo Monteiro helped us in the laboratory, and Ricardo and Margarete Monteiro provided space to perform some trials. Leandro Freitas, Angela Sanseverino, John I. Glendinning, Steve Malcolm, Janet W. Reid and one anonymous reviewer critically read previous drafts of the manuscript. MVO was funded by a FAPERJ senior student scholarship (grant 100.889/2013). JRT is grateful for grants from FAPESP (2011/17708-0) and CNPq (306103/2013-3). DR was supported by grants from CNPq (480264/2010-4) and FAPERJ (110.726/2013).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marina Vasconcelos de Oliveira
    • 1
  • José Roberto Trigo
    • 2
  • Daniela Rodrigues
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratório de Interações Inseto-Planta, Departamento de Ecologia, Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Federal do Rio de JaneiroRio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Laboratório de Ecologia Química, Departamento de Biologia Animal, Instituto de BiologiaUniversidade Estadual de CampinasCampinasBrazil

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