Close

Country

News

Scientists identify supergene that lets butterflies mimic their unpalatable cousins to fool predators

(Image: Wikipedia; Muhammad Mahdi Karim)

(Image: Wikipedia; Muhammad Mahdi Karim)


Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 12:57 PM -

To fool predators, some butterflies create wing colour patterns that make them resemble their unpalatable cousins. 

Only recently have scientists been unraveling how they do that, and now researchers have identified the gene that does the trick for an Asian swallowtail. 

In fact, it's a surprise that just one gene can let females of the species, sometimes called the common mormon, produce the elaborate wing markings of toxic relatives. Scientists had proposed that it would take a cluster of genes. 

"We were very shocked when we found it was just the one,'' said Marcus Kronforst of the University of Chicago, senior author of the study published online Wednesday by the journal Nature


SEE ALSO: New regulations issued to stop bee population decline


The gene was already known to play a different role, basically telling body cells whether the insect is male or female. It was apparently co-opted to take on the second job of controlling wing patterns in females, Kronforst said. 

The gene acts as a switch, regulating other genes to produce wing patterns that mimic those of any of three species of toxic butterflies. 

A given butterfly's pattern depends on what versions of the gene it inherited from each parent. The gene can also make a female's wing look like a male's. 


DON'T MISS: Monarch butterfly migration slows to a trickle


Files from The Associated Press

To learn more about the study, click here

Researchers work to save endangered Prairie butterfly; only a few hundred left
Volunteers make jewelry out of pottery destroyed during Japan tsunami
Study: Americans willing to pay up to $6.5 billion to save the monarch butterfly

Leave a Comment

What do you think? Join the conversation.
Default saved
Close

Search Location

POINTCAST

Look up Canadian postal code or US zip code

Close