Potential direct fitness consequences of ornament-based mate choice in a butterfly

Darrell J. Kemp, Joseph M. Macedonia, Tamara S. Ball, Ronald L. Rutowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Female mate choice has been shown to provide direct mating benefits in several animal groups. In butterflies, for which there are increasing reports of fine-scale color-based mate choice, the evolutionary benefits that accrue from such mating biases, if any, are largely unknown. We addressed this issue in the butterfly Colias eurytheme, a species in which females choose mates on the basis of iridescent ultraviolet (UV) wing ornamentation and in which males donate reproductively beneficial nuptial gifts. In the first experiment, we assessed the mass of gifts donated to 77 virgin females by males sampled directly from a field encounter site. Despite large variance in the male adult phenotype and ejaculate, no single aspect of dorsal wing coloration, including UV brightness, chroma, or hue, was related to ejaculate mass. There was, however, an interesting interaction between the effects of male body size and copula duration upon ejaculate mass, with size scaling positively with ejaculate mass among males involved in shorter copulations (those lasting <70 min) but negatively among males in longer copulations. In the second experiment, we assessed the lifetime fecundity, fertility, and longevity of 85 females mated under similar circumstances to free-flying wild males. Although several wing color parameters proved subtly informative in more sophisticated multivariable models, no model predicted more than about 20% of the variation in any single female fitness parameter. The duration of copulation, which ranged from 35 min to over 16 h and which carries putative costs for females, was, again, only very weakly predicted by male wing color parameters (i.e., R2=0.089). Given the overall minor predictive power of male wing coloration in general and of UV brightness in particular, our results do not strongly support the hypothesis that female C. eurytheme prefer bright UV males to obtain direct benefits or to minimize the costs associated with lengthy copulations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1017-1026
Number of pages10
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Apr 2008


  • Coloration
  • Lepidoptera
  • Ornamentation
  • Sexual selection
  • Spermatophore
  • Ultraviolet

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


Dive into the research topics of 'Potential direct fitness consequences of ornament-based mate choice in a butterfly'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this