Journal of Comparative Physiology A

, Volume 205, Issue 4, pp 553–565 | Cite as

Compound eyes of the small white butterfly Pieris rapae have three distinct classes of red photoreceptors

  • Adam J. BlakeEmail author
  • Primož Pirih
  • Xudong Qiu
  • Kentaro Arikawa
  • Gerhard Gries
Original Paper


The two subspecies of the small white butterfly, the European Pieris rapae rapae and the Asian P. r. crucivora, differ in wing colouration. Under ultraviolet light, the wings of both male and female P. r. rapae appear dark, whereas the wings of male P. r. crucivora are dark and those of females are bright. It has been hypothesized that these sexually dimorphic wing reflections in P. r. crucivora may have induced the evolution of a fluorescing-screening pigment in the violet-opsin-expressing photoreceptors of males, thus facilitating greater wavelength discrimination near 400 nm. Comparing the compound eyes of the two subspecies using genetic, microscopical, spectrographic, and histological methods revealed no differences that would meaningfully affect photoreceptor sensitivity, suggesting that the fluorescing-screening pigment did not evolve in response to sexually dimorphic wing reflections. Our investigation further revealed that (i) the peri-rhabdomal reddish-screening pigments differ among the three ommatidial types; (ii) each of the ommatidial types exhibits a unique class of red photoreceptor with a distinct spectral peak; and (iii) the blue, green, and red photoreceptors of P. rapae exhibit a polarization sensitivity > 2, with red photoreceptors allowing for a two-channel opponency form of polarization sensitivity.


Spectral sensitivity Polarization sensitivity Fluorescence Pigments Phylogeny 



We thank Atsuko Matsushita for assistance and instruction with microscopy and histology, and the UBC Bioimaging Facility for assistance with electron microscopy. We also thank Doekele G. Stavenga and two anonymous reviewers who provided most helpful and constructive comments and advice on earlier drafts of this paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The NSERC-Industrial Research Chair to GG was supported by Scotts Canada Ltd. as the industrial partner.


This study was supported by an Alexander Graham Bell Canadian Graduate Scholarship to AB, by the KAKENHI of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS; #26251036, 18H05273 to KA; #2604764 to PP), and by an NSERC-Industrial Research Chair to GG.

Supplementary material

359_2019_1330_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (872 kb)
Supplementary material (PDF 872 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada
  2. 2.Laboratory of NeuroethologySokendai-Hayama (The Graduate University for Advanced Studies)HayamaJapan
  3. 3.Graduate School of Integrated ScienceYokohama City UniversityYokohamaJapan
  4. 4.Department of Cancer Systems ImagingThe University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer CenterHoustonUSA
  5. 5.Computational Physics, Zernike Institute for Advanced MaterialsUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands

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