Sexual and natural selection pressures are thought to shape the characteristic wing patterns of butterfly species. Here we test whether sexual selection by female choice plays a role in the maintenance of the male wing pattern in the butterfly Bicyclus anynana. We perform one of the most extensive series of wing pattern manipulations in butterflies, dissecting every component of the 'bulls-eye' eyespot patterns in both ventral and dorsal wing surfaces of males to test the trait's appeal to females. We conclude that females select males on the basis of the size and brightness of the dorsal eyespot's ultraviolet reflecting pupils. Pupil absence is strongly selected against, as are artificially enlarged pupils. Small to intermediate (normal sized) pupils seem to function equally well. This work contradicts earlier experiments that suggest that the size of dorsal eyespots plays a role in female choice and explains why male dorsal eyespots are very variable in size and often have indistinct rings of coloration, as the only feature under selection by females seems to be the central white pupil. We propose that sexual selection by female choice, rather than predator avoidance, may have been an important selective factor in the early stages of eyespot evolution in ancestral Lepidopteran lineages.