Mate detection in a territorial butterfly—the effect of background and luminance contrast

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Abstract

Many animals search for potential mates or prey using a perch-and-sally strategy. The success of such a strategy will depend on factors that affect the observer’s ability to detect a passing resource item. Intrinsic factors (e.g., eye structure and physiology) have received much recent attention, but less is known about effects on object detection in nature and extrinsic factors such as size, coloration, and speed of a passing object and the background against which the object is viewed. Here, we examine how background affects the detection of butterfly models by perched males of the butterfly Asterocampa leilia in the field. We test the hypothesis that male choice of perch site in nature will influence the contrast between the object and background against which it is viewed and that this will influence success in detecting the object. We also test the effect of contrast by manipulating the brightness of the object and presenting butterfly models of different reflectance (ranging from black to white). We found an effect of model luminance, with dark models being most likely to elicit a response regardless of background. Further, there was an effect of background type with models viewed against blue sky eliciting the highest response. Perceived luminance contrast correlates to behavior; highly contrasting objects are more frequently detected. This study expands our understanding of visual system performance and has implications for our understanding of the behavior and evolutionary ecology of perching species.

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