Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Paternal inheritance of a female moth's mating preference


Females of the arctiid moth Utetheisa ornatrix mate preferentially with larger males, receiving both direct phenotypic and indirect genetic benefits1. Here we demonstrate that the female's mating preference is inherited through the father rather than the mother, indicating that the preference gene or genes lie mostly or exclusively on the Z sex chromosome, which is strictly paternally inherited by daughters. Furthermore, we show that the preferred male trait and the female preference for that trait are correlated, as females with larger fathers have a stronger preference for larger males. These findings are predicted by the protected invasion theory2,3, which asserts that male homogametic sex chromosome systems (ZZ/ZW) found in lepidopterans and birds promote the evolution of exaggerated male traits through sexual selection. Specifically, the theory predicts that, because female preference alleles arising on the Z chromosome are transmitted to all sons that have the father's attractive trait rather than to only a fraction of the sons, such alleles will experience stronger positive selection and be less vulnerable to chance loss than would autosomal alleles.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Mean mating preference index (MPI) of females (six full sisters) plotted as a function of the mating preference index of their mother and paternal grandmother (n = 44).
Figure 2: Inheritance of a Z-linked mating preference.
Figure 3: Correlation between mean mating preference index (MPI) of females (six full sisters) and the body mass of their father (n = 44).

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. Iyengar, V. K. & Eisner, T. Female choice increases offspring fitness in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 96, 15013–15016 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Reeve, H. K. Haplodiploidy, eusociality and absence of male parental and alloparental care in Hymenoptera: a unifying genetic hypothesis distinct from kin selection theory. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. B 342, 335–352 (1993)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Reeve, H. K. & Shellman-Reeve, J. S. The general protected invasion theory: Sex biases in parental and alloparental care. Evol. Ecol. 11, 357–370 (1997)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Conner, W. E., Roach, B., Benedict, E., Meinwald, J. & Eisner, T. Courtship pheromone production and body size as correlates of larval diet in males of the arctiid moth, Utetheisa ornatrix. J. Chem. Ecol. 16, 543–552 (1990)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Dussourd, D. E., Harvis, C., Resch, J., Meinwald, J. & Eisner, T. Pheromonal advertisement of a nuptial gift by a male moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 88, 9224–9227 (1991)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. LaMunyon, C. W. & Eisner, T. Spermatophore size as determinant of paternity in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 91, 7081–7084 (1994)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. LaMunyon, C. W. Increased fecundity, as a function of multiple mating, in an arctiid moth, Utetheisa ornatrix. Ecol. Entomol. 22, 69–73 (1997)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. González, A., Rossini, C., Eisner, M. & Eisner, T. Sexually transmitted chemical defense in a moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 96, 5570–5574 (1999)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  9. Iyengar, V. K. & Eisner, T. Heritability of body mass, a sexually selected trait, in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 96, 9169–9171 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Opler, P. A. & Krizek, G. O. Butterflies East of the Great Plains (John Hopkins Univ., Baltimore, 1984)

    Google Scholar 

  11. LaMunyon, C. W. & Eisner, T. Postcopulatory sexual selection in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 90, 4689–4692 (1993)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Lande, R. Models of speciation by sexual selection on polygenic traits. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 78, 3721–3725 (1981)

    Article  ADS  MathSciNet  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Andersson, M. Sexual Selection (Princeton Univ. Press, Princeton, 1994)

    Google Scholar 

  14. Lynch, M. & Walsh, B. Genetics and Analysis of Quantitative Traits, 4th edn (Sinauer, Sunderland, 1998)

    Google Scholar 

  15. Houde, A. E. Sex-linked heritability of a sexually selected character in a natural population of Poecilia reticulata (Pisces: Poeciliidae) (guppies). Heredity 69, 229–235 (1992)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Wilkinson, G. S., Kahler, H. & Baker, R. H. Evolution of female mating preferences in stalk-eyed flies. Behav. Ecol. 9, 525–533 (1998)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Brooks, R. & Endler, J. A. Female guppies agree to differ: phenotypic and genetic variation in mate-choice behaviour and the consequences for sexual selection. Evolution 55, 1644–1655 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Brooks, R. & Endler, J. A. Direct and indirect sexual selection and quantitative genetics of male traits in guppies (Poecilia reticulata). Evolution 55, 1002–1015 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Wolfenbarger, L. L. & Wilkinson, G. S. Sex-linked expression of a sexually selected trait in the stalk-eyed fly, Crytodiopsis dalmanni. Evolution 55, 103–110 (2001)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  20. Sharma, V. L. Chromosome studies on two species of moths. Bionature 19, 65–67 (1999)

    Google Scholar 

  21. Traut, W. & Frantisek, M. Sex chromosome differentiation in some species of Lepidoptera (Insecta). Chromosome Res. 5, 283–291 (1997)

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Grula, J. W. & Taylor, O. R. Jr The effect of X-chromosome inheritance on mate selection behaviour in the sulfur butterflies, Colias eurytheme and C. philodice. Evolution 34, 688–695 (1980)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Conner, W. E., Eisner, T., Vander Meer, R. K., Guerrero, A. & Meinwald, J. Precopulatory sexual interaction in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix): Role of a pheromone derived from dietary alkaloids. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 9, 227–235 (1981)

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Iyengar, V. K., Rossine, C. & Eisner, T. Precopulatory assessment of male quality in an arctiid moth (Utetheisa ornatrix): hydroxydanaidal is the only criterion of choice. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 49, 283–288 (2001)

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We thank J. Ladau and W. E. Conner for the collection of field-caught individuals, and J. Schlesinger for technical assistance. This manuscript was improved through comments from J. Dale, S. M. Flaxman and E. A. Tibbetts. Research support was provided by the National Institutes of Health (T.E.).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Vikram K. Iyengar.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Iyengar, V., Reeve, H. & Eisner, T. Paternal inheritance of a female moth's mating preference. Nature 419, 830–832 (2002).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing