Immunological larval polyphenism in the map butterfly Araschnia levana reveals the photoperiodic modulation of immunity
The bivoltine European map butterfly (Araschnia levana) displays seasonal polyphenism characterized by the formation of two remarkably distinct dorsal wing phenotypes: The spring generation (A. levana levana) is predominantly orange with black spots and develops from diapause pupae, whereas the summer generation (A. levana prorsa) has black, white, and orange bands and develops from subitaneous pupae. The choice between spring or summer imagoes is regulated by the photoperiod during larval and prepupal development, but polyphenism in the larvae has not been investigated before. Recently, it has been found that the prepupae of A. levana display differences in immunity‐related gene expression, so we tested whether larvae destined to become spring (short‐day) or summer (long‐day) morphs also display differences in innate immunity. We measured larval survival following the injection of a bacterial entomopathogen (Pseudomonas entomophila), the antimicrobial activity in their hemolymph and the induced expression of selected genes encoding antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). Larvae of the short‐day generation died significantly later, exhibited higher antibacterial activity in the hemolymph, and displayed higher induced expression levels of AMPs than those of the long‐day generation. Our study expands the seasonal polyphenism of A. levana beyond the morphologically distinct spring and summer imagoes to include immunological larval polyphenism that reveals the photoperiodic modulation of immunity. This may reflect life‐history traits that manifest as trade‐offs between immunity and fecundity.