Science in Action this Week: July 30, 2012

Butterfly Genome

How does mimicry work in butterflies? Academy researcher Durrell Kapan and his colleagues have found the answer in the butterfly’s genome.


  • Rk Bose

    Wait, does that mean inter-specific hybridization is what's enabling the mimicry? That's seriously cool.

  • mmichelson

    Yes, you are correct, but the devil is in the details, here is a scenario that appears to fit the data in several of these cases in Heliconius butterflies:
    1) Very rare hybridization between closely related species that look pretty different allows these species to share warning color alleles (forms of a gene) for several different genes.
    2) In hybrid offspring, the new alleles of these genes in some combinations confer a 'rough & ready' mimetic similarity to much more distantly related model species with which these butterflies do not hybridize.
    3) Natural selection acts on the variation in the hybrid offspring, favoring those which more
    closely resemble the model species, weeding out those that don't.
    4) Voila! We have mimicry, and in some cases, since different warning-color forms tend not to mate with each other due to the overwhelming impact of color-pattern on mate-choice, sometimes this process may also lead to the formation of new species.
    Durrell D. Kapan

  • Pingback: Evolution in Heliconius Butterflies « Life « Science Today

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