We investigated an ornamental trait known to reflect male fighting ability and tested whether it shows heightened condition dependence compared with nonornamental traits in the American rubyspot (Hetaerina americana). Adult males bear red wing spots, the size of which is sexually selected: large-spotted and fatter males are more successful in territorial competition and obtain more matings than are nonterritorial males. First, to see whether spot area may signal fighting ability at a particular age (to discriminate animals that are unlikely to compete), we investigated the age at which males engaged more in fighting and compared their fat reserves and muscle mass at 3 ages (young, middle aged, and old) and territorial status. Middle-aged males showed the highest fat and muscle values, engaged more in fighting, and were predominantly territorial. Second, we looked for traits not shaped by sexual selection: we compared red chroma and brightness of spot and thorax, spot area, muscle mass, and fat reserves in winner and loser males after a territorial contest. The only difference was that winners had larger spot areas and higher fat reserves. Finally, an immune challenge-based experiment was performed during the development of spot area and its color properties (chroma and brightness). Compared with a control (unchallenged) group, the results revealed that area decreased, brightness increased, and there was no change in red chroma, muscle mass, and fat reserves in challenged animals. Thus, spot area is a stress-sensitive, energy-reflecting trait that is likely to be used for communication during territorial competition in these damselflies.
- American rubyspot
- Energetic signaling
- Heightened condition dependence