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The Role of Wing Coloration in Sex Recognition and Competitor Recognition in Rubyspot Damselflies (Hetaerina spp.)

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The decision rules that animals use for distinguishing between conspecifics of different age and sex classes are relevant for understanding how closely related species interact in sympatry. In rubyspot damselflies (Hetaerina spp.), the red wing coloration of mature males is hypothesized to be a key trait for sex recognition and competitor recognition within species and the proximate trigger for interspecific male-male aggression. We tested this hypothesis by manipulating the wing coloration of tethered conspecific intruders and measuring the responses of territory holders of three species in the field. As predicted, covering the red spots of mature males with black ink nearly eliminated territorial responses, and in some cases, territorial holders clasped the blackened males as if they were females. Adding red spots to female wings triggered territorial responses and nearly eliminated sexual responses. Immature males with artificial red spots were attacked at the same rate as mature male intruders, and much more frequently than were immature male controls. The results varied somewhat by species. In H. titia, the only species of Hetaerina with substantial black wing pigmentation, the effects of blackening the red spots of intruders varied both geographically and seasonally. But even when blackening the red spots of male intruders did not reduce the aggressive response of H. titia territory holders, adding artificial red spots to female wings elicited aggressive responses and nearly eliminated sexual responses. The results of this study further strengthen the evidence that interspecific aggression in Hetaerina results from overlap in territorial signals and that the derived black wing pigmentation of H. titia reduces interspecific aggression.

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