Role of visual and non-visual cues in damselfly mate recognition


In many species of damselflies, sexual conflict in the form of male harassment is thought to explain the widespread existence of female-limited color polymorphisms. With a few exceptions, the majority of investigations into these mating systems have assumed that male damselflies primarily use visual cues to detect and recognize their mates. Recently, laboratory studies have demonstrated that damselflies orient to olfactory signals from prey and that males orient to chemical cues from conspecific females. However, to date there are no field experiments which explicitly test the role that chemical cues play in sex recognition. Here we used a field experiment on Enallagma civile damselflies to test if free flying males detect and recognize females in the absence of visual cues through the use of non-visual signals. In the absence of visual cues males did not exhibit positive responses toward female conspecifics, whereas when both visual and non-visual cues were present, males readily detected females and often tried to mate with them. Although it is possible that non-visual cues may be involved during close contact, our results emphasized that visual cues take center stage in damselfly mate recognition in the field environment. Because the field environment is the context in which selection acts on natural populations, results of this study have implications for our understanding of how selection on visual cues acts to maintain female-limited color polymorphism in damselflies whose males must search for potential mates.

Issue section: Article