Autumn mass change and winter mass loss differ between migratory and nonmigratory butterflies

Magne Friberg, Philipp Lehmann, Christer Wiklund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Poikilotherms have two major alternative strategies to deal with the inhospitable conditions of temperate winters: hibernation or migration. The vast majority of insects spend winter in a species-specific diapause resting stage, while others remain reproductively active after having migrated to more hospitable environments in the autumn. The butterfly clade Nymphalini offers an interesting possibility for comparisons among species adopting different strategies. Whereas most genera in this clade have evolved adult diapause, species in the genus Vanessa engage in an annual multigeneration migration cycle, leaving northern latitudes during autumn. Here, we compared two species of diapausing Aglais butterflies, A. io and A. urtica, two species of the migratory genus Vanessa, V. atalanta and V. cardui, and two morphs of Polygonia c-album, the diapausing winter morph and the direct developing hutchinsoni morph. We tested how these different species differ in resource acquisition strategy during early adult life, how the acquisition of resources affects survival in cold winter conditions and how A. io, Aglais urticae and V. atalanta differ in resting metabolism under cold conditions. The butterflies set for adult diapause (1) acquired more mass during early adult life and (2) lost less mass and had a lower resting metabolism under cold conditions. In addition, (3) the life span under cold conditions was positively related to the weight increase during early adult life in the diapausing species, but not in the migratory species. Our laboratory results demonstrate how different developmental pathways, such as diapause or direct development, can be studied by measuring mass change in living butterflies. Our expectation that migratory species would increase in mass like species set for overwintering were not met, perhaps because such studies should ideally be performed under natural conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-75
Number of pages9
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2023 Oct

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Zoology

Free keywords

  • adult butterfly hibernation
  • Aglais
  • diapause
  • Lepidoptera
  • metabolic rate
  • migration
  • overwintering
  • Polygonia
  • Vanessa
  • winter survival


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