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Butterfly Wing Patterns: Innovation by Shuffling

Richard Wallbank, Simon Baxter, Chris Jiggins and colleagues show that novel butterfly wing patterns have arisen via the sharing of gene regulatory elements between butterfly lineages through introgression and recombination; new combinations of regulatory elements offer a rapid route to the evolution of new patterns. The image shows Heliconius timareta florencia collected from the Florencia region of Colombia and raised in an insectary in La Vega, Colombia. In any one locality up to 11 species of heliconiine butterflies join the "dennis-ray" mimicry ring in the Amazonian forest. This pattern (a red patch on the forewing and red rays on the hindwing) is an evolutionary novelty that has arisen through introgression from H. melpomene. Heliconius butterflies often mate for several hours and the males transfer a large and nutritious spermatophore to the female.

Image Credit: Chris D Jiggins