Wing color not just for looks

November 4, 2005
Wing color not just for looks

Harvard and Russian researchers have documented natural selection's role in the creation of new species through a process called reinforcement, where butterfly wing colors differ enough to avoid confusion with other species at mating time, helping the butterflies avoid creating less-fit hybrid offspring.

Though more distantly related species tend to be more physically distinct, researchers found this was not the case with species of the blue butterfly Agrodiaetus, found in a broad swath across much of Central Asia and Europe. Researchers found instead that species that might be expected to have the most trouble telling each other apart had the greatest differences in wing color.

That meant that newly diverged species living in the same area that could still mate and have hybrid young had more distinctive wing colors than other closely-related species that had diverged at an earlier time, as well as those living in different areas from each other.

Hessel Professor of Biology Naomi Pierce said a critical factor in this research is the fact that the butterflies are still closely related enough that they can - and sometimes do - interbreed. The hybrids created by this interbreeding, however, are less fit than the parents. That makes it advantageous for parents to ensure more offspring will survive by developing distinguishing characteristics, such as male wing color, and thereby avoiding the costly mistake of mating outside their own species.

"The fact that the hybrids are less viable drives the divergence between the parent species," Pierce said. "Wing colors must be one of the first traits the butterflies use to recognize the right mate."

The research was published in the July 21, 2005 issue of the journal Nature.

Source: Harvard University

Explore further: Dragonfly watch – find those fast and furious insects

Related Stories

Dragonfly watch – find those fast and furious insects

June 12, 2015

"I'm an aquatic entomologist, and dragonflies and damselflies are the most colorful and noticeable insects in the habitats in which I work," says Dr. Celeste A. Searles Mazzacano, a staff scientist and Aquatic Conservation ...

Why we still collect butterflies

June 11, 2015

Who doesn't love butterflies? While most people won't think twice about destroying a wasp nest on the side of the house, spraying a swarm of ants in the driveway, or zapping pesky flies at an outdoor barbecue, few would intentionally ...

Why do animals fight members of other species?

April 23, 2015

Why do animals fight with members of other species? A nine-year study by UCLA biologists says the reason often has to do with "obtaining priority access to females" in the area.

Recommended for you

A cataclysmic event of a certain age

July 27, 2015

At the end of the Pleistocene period, approximately 12,800 years ago—give or take a few centuries—a cosmic impact triggered an abrupt cooling episode that earth scientists refer to as the Younger Dryas.

New blow for 'supersymmetry' physics theory

July 27, 2015

In a new blow for the futuristic "supersymmetry" theory of the universe's basic anatomy, experts reported fresh evidence Monday of subatomic activity consistent with the mainstream Standard Model of particle physics.

Dense star clusters shown to be binary black hole factories

July 29, 2015

The coalescence of two black holes—a very violent and exotic event—is one of the most sought-after observations of modern astronomy. But, as these mergers emit no light of any kind, finding such elusive events has been ...

Image: Hubble sees a dying star's final moments

July 31, 2015

A dying star's final moments are captured in this image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The death throes of this star may only last mere moments on a cosmological timescale, but this star's demise is still quite ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.