Estimating the age of Heliconius butterflies from calibrated photographs

Denise Dalbosco Dell'Aglio, Derya Akkaynak, W. Owen McMillan, Chris D. Jiggins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Mating behaviour and predation avoidance in Heliconius involve visual colour signals; however, there is considerable inter-individual phenotypic variation in the appearance of colours. In particular, the red pigment varies from bright crimson to faded red. It has been thought that this variation is primarily due to pigment fading with age, although this has not been explicitly tested. Previous studies have shown the importance of red patterns in mate choice and that birds and butterflies might perceive these small colour differences. Using digital photography and calibrated colour images, we investigated whether the hue variation in the forewing dorsal red band of Heliconius melpomene rosina corresponds with age. We found that the red hue and age were highly associated, suggesting that red colour can indeed be used as a proxy for age in the study of wildcaught butterflies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere3821
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are very grateful to Adriana Tapia for her help with the butterfly collection, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for logistical assistance, and three anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by the Cambridge Trust (UK) and CAPES (Brazil) to Denise Dalbosco Dell'Aglio, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panama) Short-term Fellowship to Derya Akkaynak. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Dalbosco Dell'Aglio et al.


  • Aging
  • Calibrated images
  • Colour analysis
  • Colouration
  • Digital camera
  • Photography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology (all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (all)


Dive into the research topics of 'Estimating the age of Heliconius butterflies from calibrated photographs'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this