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Intraspecific variation in wing colour is related to larval energy reserves in monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus)

Davis, Andrew K.
Physiological entomology 2014 v.39 no.3 pp. 247-253
Danaus plexippus, adults, butterflies, captive animals, color, eclosion, energy, flight, image analysis, intraspecific variation, larvae, longevity, pigmentation, rearing, wings
The physiological basis for pigment synthesis in lepidopteran wing scales is well‐studied, although less is known about the reasons why individuals of the same species vary in pigmentation. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus L.) show subtle variations in the shade of orange on their wings and this is known to predict flight ability and mating success. The present study tests the possibility that the shade of orange is associated with the amount of residual energy reserves carried over from the larval stage. Using monarchs reared in captivity under identical conditions (n = 207), the residuals of a regression of wing size and mass at eclosion, which indicate larval energy reserves, are obtained. This measure is positively related to adult longevity without feeding, indicating the importance of this reserve to the monarchs, as well as the value of the measure for this investigation. The shade of orange (i.e. hue) is determined on scanned wings using image analysis. Importantly, orange hue is predicted significantly by residual mass at eclosion (individuals with more mass are redder). The linkage between these traits may explain previous findings whereby redder monarchs fly further and mate more because both behaviours would be enhanced with greater energy stores. The findings of the present study add to a growing body of work showing how intraspecific variation in pigmentation has biological significance to monarchs, and possibly other butterflies. Although much remains to be investigated regarding the physiological underpinnings of this variation, the results of the present study indicate that future efforts should be rewarding.