Socially parasitic and globally threatened Phengaris (=Maculinea) arion (L.) is one of the most intensively investigated insect species in Europe. Although current studies focus on ecology and genetics, the butterfly has also attracted attention because of its morphology. An extremely variable black pattern on the blue background of the wing upperside has resulted in the description of many different forms or even subspecies. We studied the variation of 148 individuals from five regional populations at a latitudinal gradient in Poland: two north-eastern populations, one middle-eastern populations and two southern populations. A proportion of the area covered with marginal strips and spots was measured, and the presence/absence of particular elements was also analyzed. For all except one, the most northern region, we found significant sexual dimorphism, with females being darker than males. Within sexes, the melanization level was higher in the north-east than in the south, and the mid — eastern region showed intermediate characteristics. Differences in colouration overlapped with variation in host ant use, but neither feature corresponded with the available genetic data and therefore clinal variation is a more likely explanation for the observed pattern. Melanization level may be an adaptation to climatic conditions, but it remains unclear which strategy of dorsal basking is applied by P. arion.
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Vol. 61 • No. 4