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Keywords:

  • spermatophore;
  • sexual selection;
  • cyanogenic glycoside;
  • reproduction;
  • Lepidoptera;
  • Nymphalidae;
  • Heliconini

Abstract

Theory predicts that when males provision females with nuptial gifts that include nutrients, the degree of polyandry should be positively correlated with the size or quality of the gift. This is because larger and more nutritious gifts tend to increase female refractory period, reducing the chances the female will remate soon. This decreases the likelihood of sperm competiton and consequently increases the donor male fitness. Butterflies in the genus Heliconius Kluk (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae: Heliconini) exhibit variable mating systems that include monandry and polyandry. In addition to protein in the spermatophore, males increase gift quality by providing females with cyanide, which may contribute to protection of the female or her eggs. We tested whether degree of polyandry and gift quality (spermatophore weight and cyanide content) were correlated in nine Heliconius species from greenhouse populations. As predicted, both spermatophore weight and cyanide content were correlated with mating frequency. This is the first report to show that degree of polyandry correlates with allocation of defensive chemical as part of a nuptial gift.