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Behav Ecol. 2013 Jan;24(1):305-310. Epub 2012 Dec 17.

Eyespot display in the peacock butterfly triggers antipredator behaviors in naïve adult fowl.

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  • 1Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, SE-10691 Stockholm, Sweden .

Abstract

Large conspicuous eyespots have evolved in multiple taxa and presumably function to thwart predator attacks. Traditionally, large eyespots were thought to discourage predator attacks because they mimicked eyes of the predators' own predators. However, this idea is controversial and the intimidating properties of eyespots have recently been suggested to simply be a consequence of their conspicuousness. Some lepidopteran species include large eyespots in their antipredation repertoire. In the peacock butterfly, Inachis io, eyespots are typically hidden during rest and suddenly exposed by the butterfly when disturbed. Previous experiments have shown that small wild passerines are intimidated by this display. Here, we test whether eyespots also intimidate a considerably larger bird, domestic fowl, Gallus gallus domesticus, by staging interactions between birds and peacock butterflies that were sham-painted or had their eyespots painted over. Our results show that birds typically fled when peacock butterflies performed their display regardless of whether eyespots were visible or painted over. However, birds confronting butterflies with visible eyespots delayed their return to the butterfly, were more vigilant, and more likely to utter alarm calls associated with detection of ground-based predators, compared with birds confronting butterflies with eyespots painted over. Because production of alarm calls and increased vigilance are antipredation behaviors in the fowl, their reaction suggests that eyespots may elicit fear rather than just an aversion to conspicuous patterns. Our results, therefore, suggest that predators perceive large lepidopteran eyespots as belonging to the eyes of a potential predator.

PMID:
23243378
PMCID:
PMC3518204
DOI:
10.1093/beheco/ars167
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