• Phenotypic plasticity;
  • seasonal polyphenism;
  • Bicyclus;
  • crypsis;
  • butterfly;
  • Malawi;
  • wing pattern;
  • climate;
  • mortality


  • 1
    Seasonal polyphenism is studied in a community of five African butterflies of the genus Bicyclus at the transition between a wet and a dry season from May to July.
  • 2
    Butterflies characterized by large eyespots and, especially in B.sufitza (Hewitson), a pale band (the wet season form) are replaced over this period by butterflies lacking conspicuous wing markings (the dry season form, dsf). The latter butterflies also tend to be larger, but more variable in size. Butterflies of an intermediate phenotype are recruited over a comparatively short interim period.
  • 3
    This turnover coincides with a period of declining temperature and drying of the habitat, including the grasses on which larvae feed. Butterflies are progressively more likely to rest on brown leaf litter rather than on green herbage.
  • 4
    A relationship with temperature is supported by laboratory experiments with B.saJitza and B.anynana (Butler) showing that increasingly extreme dsf butterflies develop with decreasing rearing temperature in the final larval instar.
  • 5
    Some differences in behaviour and activity were observed between the seasonal forms. Butterflies of the dsf develop ovarian dormancy and fat bodies. They can survive to reproduce at the beginning of the rains in November.
  • 6
    Capture-recapture experiments showed that the adult butterflies have a comparatively long life expectancy and are quite sedentary.
  • 7
    The results are discussed in relation to a hypothesis linking the polyphenism to seasonal changes in resting background and selection for crypsis.