In true color vision, animals discriminate between light wavelengths, regardless of intensity, using at least two photoreceptors with different spectral sensitivity peaks. Heliconius butterflies have duplicate UV opsin genes, which encode ultraviolet and violet photoreceptors, respectively. In Heliconius erato, only females express the ultraviolet photoreceptor, suggesting females (but not males) can discriminate between UV wavelengths. We tested the ability of H. erato, and two species lacking the violet receptor, Heliconius melpomene and Eueides isabella, to discriminate between 380 and 390 nm, and between 400 and 436 nm, after being trained to associate each stimulus with a sugar reward. We found that only H. erato females have color vision in the UV range. Across species, both sexes show color vision in the blue range. Models of H. erato color vision suggest that females have an advantage over males in discriminating the inner UV-yellow corollas of Psiguria flowers from their outer orange petals. Moreover, previous models ( McCulloch et al., 2017) suggested that H. erato males have an advantage over females in discriminating Heliconius 3-hydroxykynurenine (3-OHK) yellow wing coloration from non-3-OHK yellow wing coloration found in other heliconiines. These results provide some of the first behavioral evidence for female H. erato UV color discrimination in the context of foraging, lending support to the hypothesis ( Briscoe et al., 2010) that the duplicated UV opsin genes function together in UV color vision. Taken together, the sexually dimorphic visual system of H. erato appears to have been shaped by both sexual selection and sex-specific natural selection.

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