Iridescent hindwing patches in the pipevine swallowtail: Differences in dorsal and ventral surfaces relate to signal function and context

Ronald L. Rutowski, Alexandra C. Nahm, Joseph M. Macedonia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


1. Iridescent colour signals are directional but, like diffusely reflected colours, vary within and among species in ways that may be adaptations to specific types of receivers in specific light environments. 2. The hindwings of pipevine swallowtail butterflies exhibit brilliant blue and iridescent colour patches on the ventral surface in both sexes and on the dorsal wing surface in males. Evidence suggests that the ventral iridescent blue is a component of the warning coloration of this distasteful species, while the dorsal blue iridescent wing area is a sexual signal. Given differences in the function and ecological context of signal production, we analysed reflectance spectra from the iridescent blue areas of both field-caught and laboratory-reared animals to test several predictions about the iridescent colour patches on these wing surfaces. 3. The ventral blue patches in the warning coloration of males and females should be most visible early and late in the day, due to wing orientation relative to sun angle. We therefore predicted that these iridescent colour patches would be brighter and of longer wavelengths than the male dorsal blue patch displayed during midday courtships. The prediction about reflectance intensity was supported but the prediction about hue was not. 4. We predicted that the sexually selected dorsal hindwing iridescence of males would be more variable among individuals and condition dependent than the naturally selected ventral iridescent colour patches. To assess variation and condition dependence, laboratory-reared and field-captured individuals were compared. The prediction about variation was not supported, but only the dorsal wing surfaces showed evidence of being condition dependent. 5. We investigated whether development of dorsal and ventral blue iridescence was coupled by determining correlations in colour properties between the wing surfaces. Our finding of positive correlations indicated a potential developmental constraint in the evolution of colour differences between the two wing surfaces. 6. Results of this study suggest that some properties of iridescent coloration on the hindwing of the pipevine swallowtail (especially intensity) may have been fine-tuned by evolution in response to prevailing ambient light conditions and viewing perspectives that differ among types of signal receivers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)767-775
Number of pages9
JournalFunctional Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • Butterflies
  • Iridescence
  • Sexual signal
  • Signal ecology
  • Warning coloration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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