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Rodent predation on hibernating peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies

Wiklund, Christer, Vallin, Adrian, Friberg, Magne, Jakobsson, Sven
Behavioral ecology and sociobiology 2008 v.62 no.3 pp. 379-389
Aglais urticae, Apodemus flavicollis, Inachis io, adults, birds, butterflies, hibernation, longevity, mice, overwintering, predation
Insects that hibernate as adults have a life span of almost a whole year. Hence, they must have extraordinary adaptations for adult survival. In this paper, we study winter survival in two butterflies that hibernate as adults and have multimodal anti-predator defences—the peacock, Inachis io, which has intimidating eyespots that are effective against bird predation, and the small tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, which does not have an effective secondary defence against birds. We assessed predation on wild butterflies hibernating in the attic of an unheated house, as well as survival of individually marked butterflies placed by hand on different sites in the attic. Our objectives were to assess (1) the number of butterflies that were killed during hibernation, (2) whether survival differed between butterfly species, and (3) how predation was related to hibernation site and the identity of the predator. There was a strong pulse of predation during the first 2 weeks of hibernation: 58% of A. urticae and 53% of I. io were killed during this period. Thereafter, predation decreased and butterfly survival equalled 98% during the final 16 weeks of hibernation. There was no difference in survival between the two butterfly species, but predation was site-specific and more pronounced under light conditions in locations accessible to a climbing rodent, such as the common yellow-necked mouse, Apodemus flavicollis. We contend that small rodents are likely important predators on overwintering butterflies, both because rodents are active throughout winter when butterflies are torpid and because they occur at similar sites.