Polarized light as a butterfly mating signal

  • Sweeney A
  • Jiggins C
  • Johnsen S
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Iridescent butterfly scales are visually
stunning structures that reflect highly saturated
colour. They also create an array of
non-chromatic optical phenomena, such as
polarization, polarization mixing and highly
directional flashes (1,2) but the ecological
purpose of these effects is unclear (3,4). Here
we show that polarized light is used in mate
recognition by Heliconius butterflies, a
genus that is known to rely on visual cues in
sexual selection and speciation (5). This terrestrial
example of exploitation of polarized
light may have adaptive value in dense forest,
where illumination varies greatly in
spectrum and intensity.

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  • Alison Sweeney

  • Christopher Jiggins

  • Sönke Johnsen

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