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Heliconiini butterflies can learn time-dependent reward associations

Cite this dataset

Toure, Wyatt; Young, Fletcher; McMillan, W.; Montgomery, Stephen (2020). Heliconiini butterflies can learn time-dependent reward associations [Dataset]. Dryad.


For many pollinators, flowers provide predictable temporal schedules of resource availability, meaning an ability to learn time-dependent information could be widely beneficial. However, this ability has only been demonstrated in a handful of species. Observational studies of Heliconius butterflies suggest that they may have an ability to form time-dependent foraging preferences. Heliconius are unique among butterflies in actively collecting pollen, a dietary behaviour linked to spatiotemporally faithful ‘trap-line’ foraging. Time-dependency of foraging preferences is hypothesised to allow Heliconius to exploit temporal predictability in alternative pollen resources. Here, we provide the first experimental evidence in support of this hypothesis, demonstrating that Heliconius hecale can learn opposing colour preferences in two time periods. This shift in preference is robust to the order of presentation, suggesting that preference is tied to the time of day and not due to ordinal or interval learning. However, this ability is not limited to Heliconius, as previously hypothesised, but is also present in a related genus of non-pollen feeding butterflies. This demonstrates that time learning likely pre-dates the origin of pollen-feeding and may be prevalent across butterflies with less specialized foraging behaviours.


This data was collected by scoring observations of butterfly behaviour. The raw choices are provided in the raw data file. The master datasheet contains all data aggregated to run the analysis in the R scripts.

Usage notes

For the R scripts you must specify the data path to the path you download the master data file (titled 'full_heliconius_dataset.csv') to. The text file named README_dataset_metadata contains the descriptions of the column headings.