Eye-spots in Lepidoptera attract attention in humans. Academic Article uri icon


  • Many prey species exhibit defensive traits to decrease their chances of predation. Conspicuous eye-spots, concentric rings of contrasting colours, are one type of defensive trait that some species exhibit to deter predators. We examined the function of eye-spots in Lepidoptera to determine whether they are effective at deterring predators because they resemble eyes ('eye mimicry hypothesis') or are highly salient ('conspicuous signal hypothesis'). We recorded the gaze behaviour of men and women as they viewed natural images of butterflies and moths as well as images in which the eye-spots of these insects were modified. The eye-spots were modified by removing them, scrambling their colours, or replacing them with elliptical or triangular shapes that had either dark or light centres. Participants were generally more likely to look at, spend more time looking at and be faster to first fixate the eye-spots of butterflies and moths that were natural compared with ones that were modified, including the elliptical eye-spots with dark centres that most resembled eyes as well as the scrambled eye-spots that had the same contrast as the natural eye-spots. Participants were most likely to look at eye-spots that were numerous, had a large surface area and were located close to the insects' heads. Participants' pupils were larger when viewing eye-spots compared with the rest of the insects' body, suggesting a greater arousal when viewing eye-spots. Our results provide some support for the conspicuous signal hypothesis (and minimal support for the eye mimicry hypothesis) and suggest that eye-spots may be effective at deterring predators because they are highly conspicuous signals that draw attention.

published proceedings

  • R Soc Open Sci

altmetric score

  • 7.7

author list (cited authors)

  • Yorzinski, J. L., Platt, M. L., & Adams, G. K.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Yorzinski, Jessica L||Platt, Michael L||Adams, Geoffrey K

publication date

  • June 2015