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Visual mate-searching behaviour in the evening brown butterfly, Melanitis leda (L.) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae)

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As in most animals, male butterflies are generally the more proactive sex with respect to seeking out mating opportunities. In most cases, males conduct their search sometime between mid-morning and mid-afternoon, but a few species are active only before dawn or after sunset. These crepuscular species offer a good opportunity to study how males deal with markedly different visual and thermal conditions. Here, I present data from a 5-month behavioural study of male Melanitis leda (Nymphalidae) at a mate-encounter site in tropical Australia. Males of this species defended perching locations along a forest edge in a similar manner to other diurnally active territorial nymphalids. They generally arrived at these sites after sunset and arrived earlier on evenings that darkened earlier. Actively mate-locating males were only seen at the site during a 25−35 min evening period, during which ambient light levels ranged between 50 and 2600 lux. Only 27% of marked territory residents were recorded again at their location of capture, but fidelity in this ‘resighted’ group ranged up to 23 days. A sample of males, captured under ambient temperatures of 24.0−27.2°C, maintained a mean thoracic excess of 8.25 ± 0.73°C, but did not appear to ‘shiver’ in the manner of other crepuscular species. Males courted conspecific females and one mating was observed. This species is an excellent candidate for further research into the evolution of mating tactics in crepuscular butterflies.
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Keywords: Lepidoptera; crepuscular; mate location; mating strategy; sexual selection

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Biology, Arizona State University, Tempe, USA and School of Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Cairns, Australia.

Publication date: November 1, 2002

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