Precopulatory assessment of male quality in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix): hydroxydanaidal is the only criterion of choice
Females of the moth Utetheisa ornatrix (Lepidoptera: Arctiidae) mate preferentially with males that excel in three quantitatively correlated attributes: body mass, systemic content of defensive pyrrolizidine alkaloid (derived from the larval diet), and glandular content of the courtship pheromone hydroxydanaidal (derived from the alkaloid). By so choosing, the females obtain direct phenotypic benefits (alkaloid and nutrient received with the spermatophore), and indirect genetic benefits (genes for large size, a heritable trait). We asked whether the female appraises the courting male on the basis of all three attributes, or whether, as had been postulated, she does so on the basis of the intensity of the pheromonal scent alone. We present data indicating that male possession of hydroxydanaidal is indeed the sole criterion of choice. Females fail to differentiate between males that differ in body mass or alkaloid content if the males lack hydroxydanaidal, but choose between males that are size-matched and alkaloid-free if one of the males has been experimentally endowed with hydroxydanaidal. We show moreover that females are able to differentiate between males that contain unequal quantities of hydroxydanaidal. Females abide by these criteria whether or not they themselves contain alkaloid. Their choice was also unaffected by whether they were confined singly with 2 males in small mating chambers, or were in groups of 10 with 20 males in large flight cages.