Lack of innate preference for morph and species identity in mate-searchingEnallagmadamselflies

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Insect mate recognition is often viewed as stereotypic, innate, and species-specific. However, male damselflies can learn to identify female-specific color morphs as potential mates. A suite of male mimicry hypotheses assume that heteromorphic females, which differ from males in color pattern, are more easily recognized as “female” and thus lack the inherent, anti-harassment advantage that the more male-like signal provides for andromorphs. Using two measures of male preference, we investigated whether naïve males have a preexisting sensory bias for a given morph color in Enallagma civile, a species that appeared to exhibit extreme plasticity in morph expression across generations within a breeding season. E. civile males raised in the absence of females exhibited no preference for either morph, whereas males raised with one female type exhibited a learned sensory bias for that morph. Male Enallagma also lacked a bias toward conspecific females over a congeneric sister species. In a naturally naïve population of Enallagma ebrium, males reacted sexually to both morphs of Enallagma hageni as often as they did to conspecific females, whose thoracic spectra were nearly identical with those of E. hageni. Moreover, despite the similar thoracic spectra of males and andromorphs, both of which reflected UV, males rarely reacted sexually to other males. Our results falsified implicit assumptions of male mimicry hypotheses, supported learned mate recognition, and suggested a scenario for speciation via sexual conflict.

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