A1 Journal article (refereed)
Genetic colour variation visible for predators and conspecifics is concealed from humans in a polymorphic moth (2022)

Nokelainen, O., Galarza, J. A., Kirvesoja, J., Suisto, K., & Mappes, J. (2022). Genetic colour variation visible for predators and conspecifics is concealed from humans in a polymorphic moth. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 35(3), 467-478. https://doi.org/10.1111/jeb.13994

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Publication details

All authors or editorsNokelainen, Ossi; Galarza, Juan A.; Kirvesoja, Jimi; Suisto, Kaisa; Mappes, Johanna

Journal or seriesJournal of Evolutionary Biology



Publication year2022

Publication date03/03/2022


Issue number3

Pages range467-478


Publication countryUnited Kingdom

Publication languageEnglish


Research data linkhttp://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:jyu-202202171535

Publication open accessOpenly available

Publication channel open accessPartially open access channel

Publication is parallel published (JYX)https://jyx.jyu.fi/handle/123456789/80132


The definition of colour polymorphism is intuitive: genetic variants express discretely coloured phenotypes. This classification is, however, elusive as humans form subjective categories or ignore differences that cannot be seen by human eyes. We demonstrate an example of a ‘cryptic morph’ in a polymorphic wood tiger moth (Arctia plantaginis), a phenomenon that may be common among well-studied species. We used pedigree data from nearly 20,000 individuals to infer the inheritance of hindwing colouration. The evidence supports a single Mendelian locus with two alleles in males: WW and Wy produce the white and yy the yellow hindwing colour. The inheritance could not be resolved in females as their hindwing colour varies continuously with no clear link with male genotypes. Next, we investigated if the male genotype can be predicted from their phenotype by machine learning algorithms and by human observers. Linear discriminant analysis grouped male genotypes with 97% accuracy, whereas humans could only group the yy genotype. Using vision modelling, we also tested whether the genotypes have differential discriminability to humans, moth conspecifics and their bird predators. The human perception was poor separating the genotypes, but avian and moth vision models with ultraviolet sensitivity could separate white WW and Wy males. We emphasize the importance of objective methodology when studying colour polymorphism. Our findings indicate that by-eye categorization methods may be problematic, because humans fail to see differences that can be visible for relevant receivers. Ultimately, receivers equipped with different perception than ours may impose selection to morphs hidden from human sight.

Keywordswarning colorationvariation (biology)genotypephenotypeobservationwood tiger

Free keywordsaposematism; Arctia plantaginis; discriminant analysis; multispectral imaging; polymorphism; wood tiger moth

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Ministry reportingYes

Reporting Year2022

JUFO rating2

Last updated on 2024-03-04 at 18:26