Data from: Why has transparency evolved in aposematic butterflies? insights from the largest radiation of aposematic butterflies, the Ithomiini
McClure, Melanie et al. (2019), Data from: Why has transparency evolved in aposematic butterflies? insights from the largest radiation of aposematic butterflies, the Ithomiini, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.d2h629q
Defended species are often conspicuous and this is thought to be an honest signal of defences, i.e. more toxic prey are more conspicuous. Neotropical butterflies of the large Ithomiini tribe numerically dominate communities of chemically-defended butterflies and may thus drive the evolution of mimetic warning patterns. Although many species are brightly coloured, most are transparent to some degree. The evolution of transparency from a warningly coloured ancestor is puzzling as it is generally assumed to be involved in concealment. Here we show that transparent Ithomiini species are indeed less detectable by avian predators (i.e. concealment). Surprisingly, transparent species are not any less unpalatable, and may in fact be more unpalatable than opaque species, the latter spanning a larger range of unpalatability. We put forth various hypotheses to explain the evolution of weak aposematic signals in these butterflies and other cryptic defended prey. Our study is an important step in determining the selective pressures and constraints that regulate the interaction between conspicuousness and unpalatability.