World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Aglais io

European Peacock
Aglais io on Blackthorn at Otmoor, Oxfordshire
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae
Tribe: Nymphalini
Genus: Aglais
Species: A. io
Binomial name
Aglais io
(Linnaeus, 1758)

Inachis io
Nymphalis io
Papilio io

The European Peacock (Aglais io),[1][2][3] more commonly known simply as the Peacock butterfly, is a colourful butterfly, found in Europe and temperate Asia as far east as Japan. Formerly classified as the only member of the genus Inachis (the name is derived from Greek mythology, meaning Io, the daughter of Inachus). It should not be confused or classified with the "American peacocks" in the genus Anartia; these are not close relatives of the Eurasian species. The Peacock butterfly is resident in much of its range, often wintering in buildings or trees. It therefore often appears quite early in spring. The Peacock butterfly has figured in research where the role of eye-spots as an anti-predator mechanism has been investigated.[4] The Peacock is expanding its range[1][5] and is not known to be threatened.[5]


  • Characteristics 1
  • Natural history 2
  • Behavior 3
    • Mating system and territorial behavior 3.1
    • Anti-predator defense mechanisms 3.2
      • Avian predators 3.2.1
      • Rodent predators 3.2.2
  • Etymology 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The butterfly has a wingspan of 50 to 55 mm. The base-colour of the wings is a rusty red, and at each wingtip it bears a distinctive, black, blue and yellow eyespot. The underside is a cryptically coloured dark-brown or black. There are two subspecies, I. io caucasica (Jachontov, 1912) found in Azerbaijan and I. io geisha (Stichel, 1908) found in Japan and the Russian Far East.

Natural history

The Peacock can be found in woods, fields, meadows, pastures, parks, and gardens, and from lowlands up to 2,500 metres (8,200 ft) elevation. It is a relatively common butterfly seen in many European parks and gardens. The Peacock male exhibits territorial behaviour, in many cases territories being selected en route of the females to oviposition sites.[6]

The butterfly hibernates over winter before laying its eggs in early spring, in batches of up to 400 at a time.[1] The eggs are ribbed and olive-green in colour and laid on the upper parts, and, the undersides of leaves of nettle plants[7] and hops. The caterpillars, which are shiny black with six rows of barbed spikes and a series of white dots on each segment, and which have a shiny black head, hatch after about a week. The chrysalis may be either grey, brown, or green in colour and may have a blackish tinge.[7] The caterpillars grow up to 42 mm in length.

The recorded foodplants of the European Peacock are Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica), Hop (Humulus lupulus), and the Small Nettle (Urtica urens).[1]

The adult butterflies drink nectar from a wide variety of flowering plants, including buddleia, willows, dandelions, wild marjoram, danewort, hemp agrimony, and clover; they also utilize tree sap and rotten fruit.


Mating system and territorial behavior

Aglais io employs a monandrous mating system, which means that they only mate with one partner for a period of time. This is due to their life cycle in which female are receptive only during an eclosion period, after overwintering. The pairs only mate once after overwintering, as it is very difficult to find a receptive female after that period.[8] In species where the range of the females is not defensible by a male, the males must defend a single desirable area that females will come through, such as dense food areas, watering holes, or favorable nesting sites. The males then attempt to mate with the females as they are passing through. Holding a desirable territory increases the male’s likelihood of finding a mate and therefore increases his reproductive success. However, each individual needs to weigh the benefits of mating with the costs of defending a territory.[9] Aglais io exhibits this type of territorial behavior, and must defend a desirable territory from other males. If only one of the males knows the territory well, he will successfully chase off any intruders. On the other hand, if both males are familiar with the territory, there will be a contest between the two to determine which of them stays in the territory. The most desirable sites are those that will increase the male’s quota of females. These sites are generally feeding and oviposition sites, which are sought after by females. This territorial behavior is reinforced by the fact that these sites are all concentrated. If the valuable resources were dispersed, there would be less observable territorial behavior.[10] To find mates and defend their territory, Aglais io exhibits perching behavior.The male butterflies will perch on an object at a specific height where they can observe passing flying objects. Every time they see a passing object of their own species or of a relevant species, they will fly straight towards the object until they are approximately 10 cm away. If they encounter a male, the resident male will chase him off his territory. If the resident male encounters a female, he will pursue her until she lands and mating will occur.[11] The courtship is extended in this species. The male goes through a long chase before the female allows him to mate. He must demonstrate high performance flight.[12]

The monandrous mating system has caused the evolution of a shorter life span in males of this species. In polygynous butterflies, the male’s reproductive success is largely dependent on life span. Therefore, the longer a male lives, the more he can reproduce, so he has a higher fitness. Therefore, males tend to live as long as the females. In A. io the synchronous eclosion at the end of winter cause males to only mate once. Their reproductive success is therefore not linked to how long they live, and there is no selective pressure to live longer. Therefore, the life span of males is shorter than the lifespan of the females.[8]

Anti-predator defense mechanisms

The Peacock butterfly’s main anti-predator defense mechanism comes from the four large eyespots that it has on its wings. These eyespots are brilliantly colored concentric circles. Like many other butterflies that hibernate, the Peacock butterfly exhibits many lines of defense against would-be predators. Avian predators of the butterfly include blue tits, pied flycatchers and other small passerine birds. The first line of defense against these predators for many hibernating butterflies is crypsis, a process in which the butterflies blend into their environment by mimicking a leaf and staying immobile.[13] Some hibernating butterflies such as the Peacock have a second line of defense: when attacked, they open their wings, expose their eyespots and perform an intimidating display of threat.[13] The intimidating visual display shown by the Peacock butterfly gives it a much better chance at escaping predators than butterflies that rely solely on leaf mimicry.[13] While the main targets of these anti-predation measures are small passerine birds, even larger birds such as chickens have been shown to react to the stimuli and avoid the butterfly when exposed to eyespots.[14]

Avian predators

Research has shown that avian predators attempting to attack a butterfly hesitate for a much longer time if they encounter butterflies that display their eyespots than if they encounter butterflies whose eyespots are covered. In addition, the predators delay their return to the butterfly if it displays eyespots[14][15] and some predators even flee before attacking the butterfly.[15] By intimidating the predator so that it delays or gives up its attack, the Peacock butterfly has a much greater chance of escaping predation.

According to the eye mimicry hypothesis, the eyespots serve an anti-predatory purpose by imitating the eyes of the avian predators' natural enemies.[14] In contrast, the conspicuousness hypothesis posits that rather than recognition of the eyespots as belonging to an enemy, the conspicuous nature of the eyespots, which are typically large and bright, causes a response in the visual system of the predator that leads to avoidance of the butterfly.[16]

In one experiment, observed responses of the avian predators to the eyespots included increased vigilance, a delay in their return to the Peacock butterfly, and the production of alarm calls associated with ground-based predators.[14] These responses to the eyespot stimuli lend support to the eye mimicry hypothesis as they indicated that the avian predator sensed that the eyespots belonged to a potential enemy. When faced with avian predators like the blue tit, the Peacock butterfly makes a hissing noise as well as threateningly displaying its eyespots. However, it is the eyespots that protect the butterfly the most; Peacock butterflies that have had their sound production capability removed still defend themselves extremely well against avian predators if their eyespots are present.[17]

Rodent predators

While hibernating in dark wintering areas, the Peacock butterfly frequently encounters rodent predators such as small mice. Against these predators, however, the visual display of eyespots is ineffective due to the darkness of the environment. Instead, these rodent predators show a much stronger adverse reaction to the butterfly when it is producing its auditory hissing signal. This indicates that for rodent predators, it is the auditory signal produced by the butterfly that serves as a deterrent.[18]


Io is a figure in Greek mythology. She was a priestess of Hera in Argos.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Eeles, Peter. "Peacock - Aglais io". UK Butterflies. Retrieved 11 November 2010. 
  2. ^ Aglais io, Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa
  3. ^ The higher classification of Nymphalidae,
  4. ^ Stevens, Martin (2005). "The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera". Biological Reviews 80 (4): 573–588.   (Abstract)
  5. ^ a b "Peacock". A-Z of Butterflies. Butterfly Conservation. Retrieved 13 November 2010. 
  6. ^ Price, Peter W. (1997). Insect ecology (3rd (illustrated) ed.). John Wiley. p. 405.  
  7. ^ a b Stokoe, W.J. (1966). The Observers Book of Butterflies. The Observer's Books (Fully illustrated ed.). London: Frederick Warne & Co. p. 191. 
  8. ^ a b Wiklund, Christer; Karl Gotthard, Sören Nylin (2003). "Mating system and the evolution of sex-specific mortality rates in two nymphalid butterflies". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 270 (1526): 1823–1828.  
  9. ^ Davies, N., Krebs, J., & West, S. (2012). An introduction to behavioral ecology. (4th ed.). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
  10. ^ Baker, R. R. (1972). Territorial behaviour of the nymphalid butterflies, Aglais urticae (L.) and Inachis io (L.). Journal of Animal Ecology 41(2): 453-469.
  11. ^ Scott, J. A. (1974). Mate-locating behavior of butterflies.American Midland Naturalist 91(1): 103-117.
  12. ^ Bergman, Martin; Karl Gotthard, David Berger, Martin Olofsson, Darrell J. Kemp, Christer Wiklund (2007). "Mating success of resident versus non-resident males in a territorial butterfly". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274 (1618): 1659–1665.  
  13. ^ a b c Crypsis versus Intimidation: Anti-Predation Defence in Three Closely Related Butterflies Adrian Vallin, Sven Jakobsson, Johan Lind and Christer Wiklund Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Jan., 2006), pp. 455-459
  14. ^ a b c d Olofsson, Martin, Hanne Løvlie, Jessika Tiblin, Sven Jakobsson, and Christer Wiklund. "Eyespot Display in the Peacock Butterfly Triggers Antipredator Behaviors in Naïve Adult Fowl." Behavioral Ecology 24.1 (2012): 305-10. Print.
  15. ^ a b Merilaita, S., A. Vallin, U. Kodandaramaiah, M. Dimitrova, S. Ruuskanen, and T. Laaksonen. "Number of Eyespots and Their Intimidating Effect on Naive Predators in the Peacock Butterfly." Behavioral Ecology 22.6 (2011): 1326-331. Print.
  16. ^ Stevens, M., C. J. Hardman, and C. L. Stubbins. "Conspicuousness, Not Eye Mimicry, Makes "eyespots" Effective Antipredator Signals." Behavioral Ecology 19.3 (2008): 525-31. Print.
  17. ^ Vallin, A., S. Jakobsson, J. Lind, and C. Wiklund. "Prey Survival by Predator Intimidation: An Experimental Study of Peacock Butterfly Defence against Blue Tits." Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 272.1569 (2005): 1203-207. Print.
  18. ^ Olofsson, Martin, Sven Jakobsson, and Christer Wiklund (2012). Auditory Defence in the Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) against Mice (Apodemus flavicollis and A. sylvaticus). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 66.2: 209-15. Print.

External links

  • Peacock Photosynth Photosynth of Peacock Butterfly - Inachis io
  • )Inachis ioPeacock ( from the [2], UK Butterflies
  • HD video of Peacock and Vanessa butterflies
  • Aglais ioPeacock page, from the Butterfly Conservation
  • Inachis io, Arkive
  • Inachis io, Learn about Butterflies
  • Inachis ioPeacock - , Captain's European Butterfly Guide
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.