Sexual dichroism and pigment localization in the wing scales of Pieris rapae butterflies

Proc Biol Sci. 2007 Jan 7;274(1606):97-102. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2006.3708.


The beads in the wing scales of pierid butterflies play a crucially important role in wing coloration as shown by spectrophotometry and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). The beads contain pterin pigments, which in Pieris rapae absorb predominantly in the ultraviolet (UV). SEM demonstrates that in the European subspecies Pieris rapae rapae, both males and females have dorsal wing scales with a high concentration of beads. In the Japanese subspecies Pieris rapae crucivora, however, only the males have dorsal wing scales studded with beads, and the dorsal scales of females lack beads. Microspectrophotometry of single scales without beads yields reflectance spectra that increase slightly and monotonically with wavelength. With beads, the reflectance is strongly reduced in the UV and enhanced at the longer wavelengths. By stacking several layers of beaded scales, pierid butterflies achieve strong colour contrasts, which are not realized in the dorsal wings of female P. r. crucivora. Consequently, P. r. crucivora exhibits a strong sexual dichroism that is absent in P. r. rapae.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Butterflies / anatomy & histology
  • Butterflies / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Pterins / analysis*
  • Pterins / metabolism
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Species Specificity
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology
  • Wings, Animal / chemistry*


  • Pterins