Butterflies use wings to send both ’sexy’ and ‘repulsive’ signals

April 2nd, 2009 - 11:41 am ICT by ANI  

Washington, April 2 (ANI): The eyespots of some butterflies serve to both attract mates and ward off predators, according to new research by Yale University biologists.

The researchers say that butterflies seem able to both attract mates and ward off predators by using different sides of their wings.

“You want to be noticeable and desirable for mates, but other onlookers, including predators, are paying attention to those signals as well,” says Jeffrey Oliver, a postdoctoral associate in Yale’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.

Oliver joined forces with Yale biologist Antonia Monteiro to study whether the eyespots on the upperside of butterflies’ wings - specifically, those of bush brown butterflies - serve a different purpose than the ones on the underside.

The researchers used different evolutionary models for their study.

They found that the eyespots on the upperside of the butterflies’ wings appeared to evolve much more quickly than those on the underside, meaning they appear and disappear frequently through the course of evolution.

According to them, the finding is consistent with the theory that these are used to attract mates, as signals used for sexual selection tend to evolve faster than others.

Oliver claims that his group’s study is the first to employ evolutionary history models to show that a species can use the same signal on different areas of its body to communicate different messages.

He says that butterflies can flash hidden eyespot on their forewings to confuse predators and give themselves time to escape.

While the researchers have yet to find out how the upperside eyespots communicate with potential mates, it is thought that they might help butterflies identify each other and thus would help keep different species from cross-mating.

Oliver has revealed that his team next plans to use longer evolutionary timescales to study where and how eyespots evolved, as well as whether they developed all at once, or independently over time.

The study appears in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. (ANI)

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