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Why Do Butterflies Have Eyes on Their Wings? Video
This video lecture from Yale University’s Science Saturdays program features an evolutionary biologist explaining the mysteries of the “eyespots” on butterfly wings. In an hour-long talk, supplemented by slides, Dr. Antonia Monteiro discusses the importance of eyespots: They help butterflies fend off predators, and they assist in male-female communication and sexual selection. Dr. Monteiro explains that—when suddenly displayed—eyespots on the dorsal surfaces of butterfly wings can startle birds and other predators and divert attacks away from a butterfly’s vulnerable body and toward the edges of its wings. Dr. Monteiro also describes experiments that reveal how males and females use the eyespots on their hidden ventral-wing surfaces in courtship. These experiments have shown that courtship patterns differ during wet and dry seasons. Dr. Monteiro concludes with a discussion of the plasticity of a female butterfly’s attraction to certain wing patterns. The attraction is not fixed; it can be influenced by what females are exposed to on their first day of life. The Science Saturdays program features other science talks on topics in several disciplines—all aimed at making science accessible to students in grade seven and above. The lectures are available in streaming video that requires RealPlayer®.
Program Director: Robert J. Wyman, Ph.D.
Award Years: 1989, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006
Summary: Yale University is a private research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Its HHMI-funded initiatives include:
- Increasing diversity in the sciences through its flagship STARS (Science, Technology and Research Scholars) Program, which has been nationally recognized for its success in fostering ethnic minority students on their way to science degrees and biomedical careers;
- Improving the quality of teacher training through programs such as the Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute, which invites teachers to participate in seminars where they create new curricula, and Yale’s Teacher Preparation Program, which trains new science teachers; and
- Offering summer residential programs with classes and labs for inner-city high school students, and providing science enrichment in city schools through DEMOS (a program that encourages Yale students to volunteer in school enrichment activities), science demonstrations in elementary and middle schools, and science and math research teams in the upper grades.