Eur. J. Entomol. 106 (2): 303-313, 2009 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2009.036

Sexual dimorphism and geographical male polymorphism in the ghost moth Hepialus humuli (Lepidoptera: Hepialidae): Scale ultrastructure and evolutionary aspects

Svend KAABER1, Niels P. KRISTENSEN*,2, Thomas J. SIMONSEN**,***,2
1 Natural History Museum Aarhus, Universitetsparken, DK-8000 Aarhus C, Denmark; e-mail:
2 Natural History Museum of Denmark (Zoological Museum), University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark; e-mail:

Throughout most of its range the Palaearctic moth Hepialus humuli shows a striking sexual dimorphism correlated with a dimorphism in wing scale ultrastructure. Male uppersides are uniformly silvery white, due to light reflection from unpigmented scales with an elaborate internal cuticular meshwork; the conspicuous wings are visual cues for females when lekking males swarm at dusk. Female uppersides have a yellow-and-orange pigment pattern, and commonplace scale morphology. Male specimens from the Shetland and Faroe Islands populations are polymorphic, with wing uppersides ranging from the typical uniform white to being patterned much as in females, or even more melanic; forewing length is slightly greater in the darker and patterned male morphs. Male wing-scale polymorphism is only modest: even the superficially most female-like specimens are overall similar to typical males with respect to important details of scale structure. The polymorphic N. Atlantic forms are likely derived from dimorphic ancestors of the continental type. The principal selective force favouring male darkening in these insular populations is most probably a locally strong predation by visual hunters (primarily gulls and terns) on the lekking moths, combined with a lessened importance of the colour-related conspicuousness of males for female mate-searching at the high ambient light level at the swarming time at these high latitudes. This assumption is supported by the finding of a higher abundance of cryptic males (and perhaps by the smaller average size of the non-cryptic male morphs) in sites with intense bird predation.

Keywords: Hepialidae, Hepialus humuli, wing length, wing-scale structure, bird and bat predation, predatory selection, prey visibility, polymorphism, sexual dimorphism, Faroe Isles, Shetland Isles

Received: December 18, 2008; Accepted: February 24, 2009; Revised: February 24, 2009; Published: May 20, 2009Show citation

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KAABER, S., KRISTENSEN, N.P., & SIMONSEN, T.J. (2009). Sexual dimorphism and geographical male polymorphism in the ghost moth Hepialus humuli (Lepidoptera: Hepialidae): Scale ultrastructure and evolutionary aspects. Eur. J. Entomol.106(2), 303-313. doi: 10.14411/eje.2009.036.
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