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Comparative unpalatability of mimetic viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) from four south-eastern United States populations

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Abstract

Viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus), long considered palatable mimics of distasteful danaine butterflies, have been shown in studies involving laboratoryreared specimens to be moderately unpalatable to avian predators. This implies that some viceroys are Müllerian co-mimics, rather than defenseless Batesian mimics, of danaines. Here, I further test this hypothesis by assessing the palatability of wild-caught viceroys from four genetically and ecologically diverse populations in the southeastern United States. Bioassays revealed that viceroys sampled from three sites in Florida and one in South Carolina were all moderately unpalatable to captive redwinged blackbird predators, which ate fewer than half of the viceroy abdomens presented. Red-wings commonly exhibited long manipulation times and considerable distress behavior when attempting to eat a viceroy abdomen, and they taste-rejected over one-third of viceroys after a single peck. These findings, the first based on wild-caught butterflies, support the hypothesis that the viceroy-danaine relationship in some areas represents Müllerian mimicry, prompting a reassessment of selective forces shaping the interaction. Moreover, considerable variation in palatability of individual viceroys, and in behavior of individual birds, contributes to the complexity of chemical defense and mimicry in this system.

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Ritland, D.B. Comparative unpalatability of mimetic viceroy butterflies (Limenitis archippus) from four south-eastern United States populations. Oecologia 103, 327–336 (1995). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00328621

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