Female Colour Polymorphism: Gender and the Eye of the Beholder in Damselflies

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Damselflies provide a classic example of female colour polymorphism. Usually, one female morph resembles the blue male colour (andromorph) while one, or more, female morphs are seen as typically female (gynomorph). Damselfly species fall in two distinct groups with respect to recent developments in mimicry theory: in some species females are perfect, they match male colouration and black patterning, and in other species they are supposed to be imperfect mimics, only matching male colouration. However, the underlying assumption of one female morph looking male-like is mostly based on human vision. Therefore we investigated the black patterning and colour of the three female morphs in Coenagrion puella, an imperfect mimic, using image analysis. In C. puella the blue female morph is perceived as male-like. We found that the black patterning of such females cannot be distinguished from the other female morphs, and is clearly different from males. Furthermore, the blue colour of andromorph females differs from the blue colour of males. Intriguingly, however, the red content did not differ between blue males and females.

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