'Taste sensor' genes in female butterflies vital to species' survival

Jul 11, 2013

Giving the phrase "Mother knows best" a whole new meaning, UC Irvine researchers have identified unique genes in female butterflies that enable them to select the best host plant for their larvae – and avoid deadly ones.

Biologist Adriana Briscoe and colleagues found that females of the Heliconius species express gustatory, or taste, when choosing a host on which to lay their eggs. Many plants defend themselves by producing , so it's vital to their 's survival that the butterflies pick the right kind. Heliconius females have 80 taste organs called sensilla on their forelegs that they use to sample potential , while male butterflies have none.

"This study is important for understanding the co-evolution of butterfly species and their host plants, uncovers a new set of genes critical to the species' survival, and reveals that female butterfly behavior shapes the hereditary makeup of butterflies," said Briscoe, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and lead author of the paper, which will be published online July 11 in PLOS Genetics.

Heliconius females choose young, robust passionflower vines to host their larvae. They're so selective that they inspect a number of vines multiple times daily for other butterfly larvae and deficient leaves that are not healthy enough to sustain larvae or produce toxic chemicals before deciding on which specific vine to lay their eggs. Healthy passionflower vines are a limited commodity indigenous to rainforests in Mexico, Central America and South America.

Briscoe and her team have published other studies on butterflies, including a 2010 one in which they found that butterfly species with a duplicate gene allowing them to see ultraviolet colors also have ultraviolet-yellow pigment on their wings, helping them identify appropriate mates in a timely manner.

Explore further: Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

An eye gene colors butterfly wings red

Jul 21, 2011

Red may mean STOP or I LOVE YOU! A red splash on a toxic butterfly's wing screams DON'T EAT ME! In nature, one toxic butterfly species may mimic the wing pattern of another toxic species in the area. By ...

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

1 hour ago

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

Offspring benefit from mum sending the right message

9 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Researchers have uncovered a previously unforeseen interaction between the sexes which reveals that offspring survival is affected by chemical signals emitted from the females' eggs.

Lemurs match scent of a friend to sound of her voice

23 hours ago

Humans aren't alone in their ability to match a voice to a face—animals such as dogs, horses, crows and monkeys are able to recognize familiar individuals this way too, a growing body of research shows.

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

extinct
not rated yet Jul 11, 2013
if this machine (the butterfly) had been designed by a scientist in a lab, it would be hailed as the latest in high-tech bioengineering and yachts-a-plenty would be bought from the corporate profits, but since it's only designed by Mother Nature for free, nobody was interested enough to comment here except me. priorities...

More news stories

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

For cells, internal stress leads to unique shapes

From far away, the top of a leaf looks like one seamless surface; however, up close, that smooth exterior is actually made up of a patchwork of cells in a variety of shapes and sizes. Interested in how these ...

Down's chromosome cause genome-wide disruption

The extra copy of Chromosome 21 that causes Down's syndrome throws a spanner into the workings of all the other chromosomes as well, said a study published Wednesday that surprised its authors.

Ebola virus in Africa outbreak is a new strain

The Ebola virus that has killed scores of people in Guinea this year is a new strain—evidence that the disease did not spread there from outbreaks in some other African nations, scientists report.