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Responses of great tits Parus major to small tortoiseshells Aglais urticae in feeding trials; evidence of aposematism

, : Responses of great tits Parus major to small tortoiseshells Aglais urticae in feeding trials; evidence of aposematism. Ecological entomology 28(4): 503-509

1. The small tortoiseshell Aglais urticae (Lepidoptera, Nymphalidae) is one of several red-coloured butterflies and moths that are active in early spring in Norway. It has been suggested that tortoiseshells may be warningly coloured and unpalatable to birds, however no experiments have been carried out to test this hypothesis. 2. The reactions of wild-caught great tits Parus major (Paridae) when offered dead specimens of the tortoiseshell and four palatable control species were studied. Two experiments were carried out. In expt 1, only intact prey was presented to the birds. In expt 2, the birds were offered only experimentally de-winged prey. Hence, in expt 2, it was possible to explore to what extent the birds' reaction to the prey offered to them in expt 1 could be explained as a reaction to visual stimuli from the wings of the prey. 3. In both experiments, tortoiseshells were attacked hesitantly, eaten slowly, and rejected often compared with controls, providing evidence that tortoiseshells are mildly distasteful to great tits. Moreover, all birds were more hesitant to attack intact than de-winged tortoiseshells, while there was no such effect for control prey, indicating a warning effect associated with the butterfly wings. There were also indications of avoidance learning in the birds to the presented tortoiseshells. These results are consistent with the idea of aposematism.


DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2311.2003.00522.x

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