Number of eyespots and their intimidating effect on naive predators in the peacock butterfly

Sami Merilaita, A Vallin, U Kodandaramaiah, M Dimitrova, S Ruuskanen, T Laaksonen

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    30 Citations (Scopus)


    Predation experiments have shown that the large eyespots (concentric rings of contrasting colors) found on the wings of several lepidopteran species intimidate passerine predators. According to the eye mimicry hypotheses, the intimidation is caused by predators associating the eyespots with the presence (of the eyes) of their own enemy. The conspicuousness hypothesis suggests, instead, that it is simply the conspicuousness of eyespot patterns that is intimidating, possibly due to a sensory bias. We studied how the number of eyespots, 2 or 4, influences intimidation. We predicted that if eye mimicry is important, the maximum response would be reached with a pair of eyespots. On the other hand, if conspicuousness is important, then more than 2 eyespots should result in an even stronger response. The peacock butterfly, Inachis io, has 4 large eyespots on its wings. We presented naive insectivorous birds (pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca) 2 different prey items made from wings of dead peacock butterflies and a mealworm between the wings. One group of birds received prey that had no or only 2 eyespots visible and the other group received prey that had no or all 4 eyespots visible. Eyespots clearly increased hesitation before attacks. Because the birds were naive, this difference in response to the eyespots was innate. Importantly, there was no difference in attack latency between 2 and 4 eyespots. We conclude that it is unlikely that conspicuousness as such has selected for eyespots in the peacock butterfly.
    Original languageUndefined/Unknown
    Pages (from-to)1326–1331
    Number of pages6
    JournalBehavioral Ecology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2011
    MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


    • antipredator adaptation
    • intimidation
    • pied flycatcher
    • predation
    • prey coloration

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