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PLoS One. 2012;7(7):e41323. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041323. Epub 2012 Jul 25.

The redder the better: wing color predicts flight performance in monarch butterflies.

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1
Odum School of Ecology, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, United States of America. akdavis@uga.edu

Abstract

The distinctive orange and black wings of monarchs (Danaus plexippus) have long been known to advertise their bitter taste and toxicity to potential predators. Recent work also showed that both the orange and black coloration of this species can vary in response to individual-level and environmental factors. Here we examine the relationship between wing color and flight performance in captive-reared monarchs using a tethered flight mill apparatus to quantify butterfly flight speed, duration and distance. In three different experiments (totaling 121 individuals) we used image analysis to measure body size and four wing traits among newly-emerged butterflies prior to flight trials: wing area, aspect ratio (length/width), melanism, and orange hue. Results showed that monarchs with darker orange (approaching red) wings flew longer distances than those with lighter orange wings in analyses that controlled for sex and other morphometric traits. This finding is consistent with past work showing that among wild monarchs, those sampled during the fall migration are darker in hue (redder) than non-migratory monarchs. Together, these results suggest that pigment deposition onto wing scales during metamorphosis could be linked with traits that influence flight, such as thorax muscle size, energy storage or metabolism. Our results reinforce an association between wing color and flight performance in insects that is suggested by past studies of wing melansim and seasonal polyphenism, and provide an important starting point for work focused on mechanistic links between insect movement and color.

PMID:
22848463
PMCID:
PMC3405115
DOI:
10.1371/journal.pone.0041323
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
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