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An eye for an eye – on the generality of the intimidating quality of eyespots in a butterfly and a hawkmoth
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-3476-3925
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Zoology.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-4719-487X
2007 (English)In: Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, ISSN 0340-5443, Vol. 61, no 9, 1419-1424 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Large eyespots on the wings of butterflies and moths have been ascribed generally intimidating qualities by creating a frightening image of a bird or mammal much larger than the insect bearing the eyespots. However, evidence for this anti-predator adaptation has been largely anecdotal and only recently were peacock butterflies, Inachis io, shown to effectively thwart attacks from blue tits, Parus caeruleus. Here we test whether large eyespots on lepidopterans are generally effective in preventing attacks from small passerines, and whether the size of insect or bird can influence the outcome of interactions. We staged experiments between the larger eyed hawkmoths, Smerinthus ocellatus, and the smaller peacock butterflies, I. io, and the larger great tits, Parus major, and the smaller blue tits, P. caeruleus. Survival differed substantially between the insect species with 21 of 24 peacocks, but only 6 of 27 eyed hawkmoths, surviving attacks from the birds. Thus, surprisingly, the smaller prey survived to a higher extent, suggesting that other factors than insect size may be important. However, great tits were less easily intimidated by the insects’ eyespots and deimatic behaviour and consumed 16 of 26, but the blue tits only 8 of 25 of the butterflies and hawkmoths. Our results demonstrate that eyespots per se do not guarantee survival, and that these two insects bearing equally large eyespots are not equally well protected against predation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2007. Vol. 61, no 9, 1419-1424 p.
Keyword [en]
eyespots; predation; predator; prey; butterfly
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-22842DOI: 10.1007/s00265-007-0374-6OAI: diva2:189613
Part of urn:nbn:se:su:diva-1219Available from: 2006-08-24 Created: 2006-08-24 Last updated: 2014-10-28Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. On the protective value of conspicuous eyespots in Lepidoptera
Open this publication in new window or tab >>On the protective value of conspicuous eyespots in Lepidoptera
2006 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Eyespots, circular patterns which resemble the general appearance of the vertebrate eye, are widespread throughout the animal kingdom and are for example, commonly found on the wings of butterflies where they have been proposed to confer protection against predation. However, empirical evidence of the adaptive value of eyespots, as well as knowledge of butterfly behaviour under the threat of predation, is scarce. In Paper I, we subjected three butterfly species to attacks by insect eating birds. Results show that, although being closely related, these three species have developed fundamentally different kinds of anti-predation adaptations. Paper II demonstrates that the conspicuous eyespots, in combination with the wing-flicking of peacock butterflies, Inachis io, provide efficient defence against blue tits, Parus caeruleus. Peacocks appear to be edible to blue tits, thus, this is an example of effective animal defence by bluffing. During winter hibernation however, Paper III suggests that adult peacock butterflies do not survive predation better compared with its close relative the small tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae, a species lacking eyespots. In Paper IV we argue that two edible insect species carrying equally large eyespots are not necessarily equally well protected against bird predation. In this study, a higher frequency of the larger prey, the eyed hawkmoth, Smerinthus ocellatus, were killed compared with the smaller prey, the peacock butterfly. Finally, Paper V shows that birds approach emperor moths, Saturnia pavonia, a species always exposing their eyespots, earlier after the onset of a trial, compared with eyed hawkmoths, a species hiding their eyespots until harassed by a bird. This suggests that large eyespots may catch the attention of a nearby predator and in situations where predators are not intimidated by the display, eyespots may switch from being potentially beneficial to being a costly trait.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Zoologiska institutionen, 2006. 23 p.
National Category
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-1219 (URN)91-7155-308-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2006-09-15, sal G, Arrheniuslaboratorierna, Svante Arrhenius väg 14-18, Stockholm, 10:00
Available from: 2006-08-24 Created: 2006-08-24Bibliographically approved

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Jakobsson, SvenWiklund, Christer
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