Males of the damselfly Mnais costalis Selys (Odonata: Calopterygidae) are morphologically and behaviourally polymorphic, typically existing as clear-winged non-territorial ‘sneaks’ and orange-winged territorial ‘fighters’. The amount of orange pigment in the wing, as measured with a chromameter, varied between individuals, and decreased as the reproductive season progressed. Young individuals maintained in the laboratory on high or low nutrient diets differed in the amount of pigment that developed in the wing. Males in the high nutrient group developed darker wings faster than those in the low nutrient group. Young adults of both sexes and morphs were fed 14C-radiolabelled tryptophan or tyrosine (precursors of the pigments ommochrome and melanin, respectively). Ommochrome was restricted to the pseudopterostigma of the males of both morphs and was not present in females. The presence of tyrosine in the wing cells of orange males, but not of clear males, indicated that the orange pigment is at least partly constituted from melanin. These data show that at least some pigment levels must be maintained continuously in the wings of orange males, and that maintenance is costly as it is compromised at low nutrient levels.