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Auditory defence in the peacock butterfly (Inachis io) against mice (Apodemus flavicollis and A. sylvaticus)


Morphological and behavioural traits can serve as anti-predator defence either by reducing detection or recognition risks, or by thwarting initiated attacks. The latter defence is secondary and often involves a ‘startle display’ comprising a sudden release of signals targeting more than one sensory modality. A suggested candidate for employing a multimodal defence is the peacock butterfly, Inachis io, which, by wing-flicking suddenly, produces sonic and ultrasonic sounds and displays four large eyespots when attacked. The eyespots make small birds retreat, but whether the sounds produced thwart predator attacks is largely unknown. Peacocks hibernate as adults in dark wintering sites and employ their secondary defence upon encounter with small rodent predators during this period. In this study, we staged predator–prey encounters in complete darkness in the laboratory between wild mice, Apodemus flavicollis and Apodemus sylvaticus, and peacocks which had their sound production intact or disabled. Results show that mice were more likely to flee from sound-producing butterflies than from butterflies which had their sound production disabled. Our study presents experimental evidence that the peacock butterfly truly employs a multimodal defence with different traits targeting different predator groups; the eyespots target birds and the sound production targets small rodent predators.

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We thank M. Friberg for statistical advice and U. Kodandaramaiah, B. Tullberg and S. Andersson for valuable comments on the manuscript. We also thank L. Svensson for capture and husbandry of mice.

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Correspondence to Martin Olofsson.

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Communicated by D. Kemp

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Olofsson, M., Jakobsson, S. & Wiklund, C. Auditory defence in the peacock butterfly (Inachis io) against mice (Apodemus flavicollis and A. sylvaticus). Behav Ecol Sociobiol 66, 209–215 (2012).

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  • Anti-predator behaviour
  • Multimodal defence
  • Predator–prey interaction
  • Ultrasonic sound
  • Mice
  • Lepidoptera