Various kinds of butterflies raise both (or sometimes one) of their pairs of wings while basking with their body at approximately right angles to the incident solar radiation and with their wings held at an acute angle to the incident sunlight. I here test the effects of wing posture on thoracic temperature in so-called ‘reflectance’ basking.

  1. 1.

    Butterflies with pale yellow or white dorsal wing surfaces held with their wings at 45, 90 or 180° with respect to each other (or 22–23, 45 and 90°with respect to the solar radiation) heated to mean thoracic temperatures (Tth) of 38.2, 39.5 and 39.9°C, respectively, in direct sunlight. These closely similar values of T^ are significantly different (P < 0.02) from each other, but the difference is in the opposite direction to that predicted by the solar reflectance hypothesis.

  2. 2.

    The Tth of butterflies tested under a sun lamp in the laboratory showed the same trend of Tth with wing angle. Reflectance from the wings thus makes little or no practical contribution to the animal's heating response.

  3. 3.

    Butterflies with wings at 45° that were heated from above with a sun lamp showed an immediate increase in Tth when turned at right angles to a gentle air stream. Thoracic temperature immediately declined when they were again turned to face the air stream.

  4. 4.

    Those butterflies that were at right angles to the air stream showed an immediate increase in Tth when the wings were raised from 180 to 45°, and their Tth again declined to previous values when the wings were again lowered. However, little or no effect of wing angle on Tth was observed when the wing angle of butterflies parallel to the air stream was altered.

These results indicate that wing elevation in basking butterflies does not increase Tth by way of solar reflection from the wings. Instead, the raised wings increase Tth by reducing convective cooling. ‘Reflectance’ basking is a form of dorsal basking used by species of butterflies that perch above vegetation rather than above a heated substratum.

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