• heliconian butterflies;
  • host plant selection;
  • life history;
  • passion vines;
  • seasonality;
  • size variation;
  • temperature

Abstract  Adult body size, a key life history component, varies strongly within and between Heliconius erato phyllis (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) populations. In the present study, we determined whether seasonal variation in adult body size is temperature related and/or determined by seasonal changes of host plants (Passifloraceae) used by the larval stage. A population of H. erato phyllis located in a Eucalyptus plantation (Barba Negra Forest, Barra do Ribeiro County, Rio Grande do Sul State, Brazil) was sampled every 45 days from March 1997 to October 1998 to quantify seasonal variation in adult body size and use of larval host plants. In the laboratory, the effects of the following factors on adult body size were quantified: (i) host plant species (Passiflora misera or Passiflora suberosa); (ii) food quantity consumed by larvae (experimentally manipulated for each passion vine species); (iii) winter and summer temperatures (15 and 25°C, respectively); and (iv) the interaction between host plant species and temperature. Adults emerging during summer were larger than those emerging in other seasons. Female butterflies oviposited selectively on P. misera even when the dominant passion vine was P. suberosa. They only switched from using P. misera to P. suberosa during later autumn and winter, when P. misera vines were completely defoliated. The laboratory feeding trials with both passion vines showed a strong positive association between food quantity consumed by larvae and adult size. They also confirmed that adults are larger when their larvae are reared on P. misera than on P. suberosa. Temperature during larval development had no effect on H. erato phyllis adult size. Thus, seasonal variation of H. erato phyllis adult size in a given place is primarily determined by the availability and quality of host plant species used by the larval stage.