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Keywords:

  • Polyphenism;
  • butterfly;
  • dry season;
  • wet season;
  • eyespots;
  • deflection;
  • crypsis;
  • predators;
  • visual selection;
  • adaptation

An explanation is developed for the adaptive significance of the forms characteristic of the dry season and wet season adult generations of some tropical butterflies. The divergent phenotypes are accounted for as adaptive responses to a shift in the optimum balance between dependence on the alternative (but interdependent) strategies of active anti-predator devices and of crypsis. The seasonal polyphenisms exhibited by the satyrines Melanitis leda (Fabricius) and Orsotrioena medus (Fabricius) and the nymphalid Junonia almana (Linné) are examined in detail. The wet season forms show prominent marginal eyespot patterns which are displayed at rest and function principally in the deflection of attacks by vertebrate predators. In contrast, the dry season forms show very small or no spots and are wholly cryptic. Wet season butterflies are more active in general than those in the dry season when aestivation behaviour is often observed. The alternative phenotypes represent responses to the differences in behaviour, environment and nature of predation. Reproductive success is optimized in each season by an interaction of phenotype and behaviour. The hypothesis must be tested in detail by an investigation of the behavioural ecology and population biology of particular species. It is argued that these seasonal polyphenisms provide examples of adaptations to a repeating pattern of changing environments where the mode of selection is, in broad terms, understood.