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Palatablility and escaping ability in Neotropical butterflies: tests with wild kingbirds (

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The palatability and the ability of neotropical butterflies to escape after being detected, attacked and captured by wild kingbirds (Tyrannus melancholicus Vieillot), was investigated by the release of 668 individuals of 98 butterfly species close to the birds, during their usual feeding activities. Most of the butterflies were attacked and eaten. Only the troidine swallowtails (Parities and Battus; Papilionidae) were consistently rejected on taste and elicited aversive behaviours in birds. Most other aposematic and/or mimetic species in the gehera Danaus and Lycorea (Danainae), Dione, Eueides and Heliconius (Heliconiinae), Hypothyris, Mechanitis and Melinaea (Ithomfinae), Biblis, Callicore and Diaethria (Limenitidinae) were generally eaten. Cryptic and non‐mimetic species were always attacked and, if captured, they were also eaten. All Apaturinae, Charaxinae, Nymphalinae, Hesperidae, most Limenitidinae, Heliconiinag (Agraulis, Dryas, Dryadula and Philaethria) and Papilionidae (Eurytides, Heraclides and Protesilaus) were in this group. Results indicate that the learning process in kingbirds may demand a large mortality in prey populations, even among species generally accepted as unpalatable and aposematic. They also support the assertion that escaping ability and unpalatability evolved in butterflies as alternative strategies to avoid predation by birds. Mimetic relationships among several species are discussed. Evidence for the evolution of aposematism not related to unpalatability, but to escaping ability, was found for two hard‐to‐catch Morpho species.
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Document Type: Original Article

Affiliations: Department of Zoology, South Parks Road, Oxford, 0X1 3PS and Departamento de Apologia, Universidade de Brasilia — UnB. 70910-900 Brasília, DF, Brazil

Publication date: 01 December 1996

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