Biological Reviews

Review Article

The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera

Martin Stevens a1
a1 Ecology of Vision, School of Biological Sciences, University of Bristol, Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1UG. UK (E-mail:

Article author query
stevens m   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


Eyespots are found in a variety of animals, in particular lepidopterans. The role of eyespots as antipredator mechanisms has been discussed since the 19th Century, with two main hypotheses invoked to explain their occurrence. The first is that large, centrally located eyespots intimidate predators by resembling the eyes of the predators' own enemies; the second, though not necessarily conflicting, hypothesis is that small, peripherally located eyespots function as markers to deflect the attacks of predators to non-vital regions of the body. A third possibility is also proposed; that eyespots intimidate predators merely because they are novel or rarely encountered salient features. These hypotheses are reviewed, with special reference given to avian predators, since these are likely to be the principal visually hunting predators of the lepidopterans considered. Also highlighted is the necessity to consider the potential influence of sexual selection on lepidopteran wing patterns, and the genetics and development of eyespot formation.

(Published Online July 8 2005)
(Received May 28 2004)
(Revised March 18 2005)
(Accepted April 14 2005)

Key Words: eyespots; receiver psychology; antipredator signals; Lepidoptera; deflection; startle displays; false-head; visual signals; colour patterns.