Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Butterfly


Structural colors are generated by scattering of light by variations in tissue nanostructure. They are widespread among animals and have been studied most extensively in butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera), which exhibit the widest diversity of photonic nanostructures, resultant colors, and visual effects of any extant organism. The evolution of structural coloration in lepidopterans, however, is poorly understood. Existing hypotheses based on phylogenetic and/or structural data are controversial and do not incorporate data from fossils. Here we report the first example of structurally colored scales in fossil lepidopterans; specimens are from the 47-million-year-old Messel oil shale (Germany). The preserved colors are generated by a multilayer reflector comprised of a stack of perforated laminae in the scale lumen; differently colored scales differ in their ultrastructure. The original colors were altered during fossilization but are reconstructed based upon preserved ultrastructural detail. The dorsal surface of the forewings was a yellow-green color that probably served as a dual-purpose defensive signal, i.e. aposematic during feeding and cryptic at rest. This visual signal was enhanced by suppression of iridescence (change in hue with viewing angle) achieved via two separate optical mechanisms: extensive perforation, and concave distortion, of the multilayer reflector. The fossils provide the first evidence, to our knowledge, for the function of structural color in fossils and demonstrate the feasibility of reconstructing color in non-metallic lepidopteran fossils. Plastic scale developmental processes and complex optical mechanisms for interspecific signaling had clearly evolved in lepidopterans by the mid-Eocene.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Color, Lepidoptera, Fossil, Paleontology, Butterfly


There has been widespread concern that neonicotinoid pesticides may be adversely impacting wild and managed bees for some years, but recently attention has shifted to examining broader effects they may be having on biodiversity. For example in the Netherlands, declines in insectivorous birds are positively associated with levels of neonicotinoid pollution in surface water. In England, the total abundance of widespread butterfly species declined by 58% on farmed land between 2000 and 2009 despite both a doubling in conservation spending in the UK, and predictions that climate change should benefit most species. Here we build models of the UK population indices from 1985 to 2012 for 17 widespread butterfly species that commonly occur at farmland sites. Of the factors we tested, three correlated significantly with butterfly populations. Summer temperature and the index for a species the previous year are both positively associated with butterfly indices. By contrast, the number of hectares of farmland where neonicotinoid pesticides are used is negatively associated with butterfly indices. Indices for 15 of the 17 species show negative associations with neonicotinoid usage. The declines in butterflies have largely occurred in England, where neonicotinoid usage is at its highest. In Scotland, where neonicotinoid usage is comparatively low, butterfly numbers are stable. Further research is needed urgently to show whether there is a causal link between neonicotinoid usage and the decline of widespread butterflies or whether it simply represents a proxy for other environmental factors associated with intensive agriculture.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Conservation biology, Agriculture, Causality, Insect, Index, Insecticide, Butterfly


Nipple-like nanostructures covering the corneal surfaces of moths, butterflies, and Drosophila have been studied by electron and atomic force microscopy, and their antireflective properties have been described. In contrast, corneal nanostructures of the majority of other insect orders have either been unexamined or examined by methods that did not allow precise morphological characterization. Here we provide a comprehensive analysis of corneal surfaces in 23 insect orders, revealing a rich diversity of insect corneal nanocoatings. These nanocoatings are categorized into four major morphological patterns and various transitions between them, many, to our knowledge, never described before. Remarkably, this unexpectedly diverse range of the corneal nanostructures replicates the complete set of Turing patterns, thus likely being a result of processes similar to those modeled by Alan Turing in his famous reaction-diffusion system. These findings reveal a beautiful diversity of insect corneal nanostructures and shed light on their molecular origin and evolutionary diversification. They may also be the first-ever biological example of Turing nanopatterns.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Insect, Lepidoptera, Moth, Butterfly, Alan Turing, Central limit theorem


Man’s harvesting of photovoltaic energy requires the deployment of extensive arrays of solar panels. To improve both the gathering of thermal and photovoltaic energy from the sun we have examined the concept of biomimicry in white butterflies of the family Pieridae. We tested the hypothesis that the V-shaped posture of basking white butterflies mimics the V-trough concentrator which is designed to increase solar input to photovoltaic cells. These solar concentrators improve harvesting efficiency but are both heavy and bulky, severely limiting their deployment. Here, we show that the attachment of butterfly wings to a solar cell increases its output power by 42.3%, proving that the wings are indeed highly reflective. Importantly, and relative to current concentrators, the wings improve the power to weight ratio of the overall structure 17-fold, vastly expanding their potential application. Moreover, a single mono-layer of scale cells removed from the butterflies' wings maintained this high reflectivity showing that a single layer of scale cell-like structures can also form a useful coating. As predicted, the wings increased the temperature of the butterflies' thorax dramatically, showing that the V-shaped basking posture of white butterflies has indeed evolved to increase the temperature of their flight muscles prior to take-off.

Concepts: Sun, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Lepidoptera, Photovoltaic module, Butterfly, Photovoltaic array, Pieridae


To evaluate the effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident on the surrounding area, we studied the pale grass blue butterfly Zizeeria maha, the most common butterfly in Japan. We here review our important findings and their implications. We found forewing size reduction, growth retardation, high mortality rates, and high abnormality rates in the field and reared samples. The abnormality rates observed in September 2011 were higher than those observed in May 2011 in almost all localities, implying transgenerational accumulation of genetic damage. Some of the abnormal traits in the F1 generation were inherited by the F2 generation. In a particular cross, the F2 abnormality rate scored 57%. The forewing size reduction and high mortality and abnormality rates were reproduced in external and internal exposure experiments conducted in our laboratory using Okinawa larvae. We observed the possible real-time evolution of radiation resistance in the Fukushima butterflies, which, in retrospect, indicates that field sampling attempts at the very early stages of such accidents are required to understand the ecodynamics of polluted regions. We propose, as the postulates of pollutant-induced biological impacts, that the collection of phenotypic data from the field and their relevant reproduction in the laboratory should be the basis of experimental design to demonstrate the biological effects of environmental pollutants and to investigate the molecular mechanisms responsible for these effects.

Concepts: DNA, Genetics, Evolution, Experiment, Pollution, Lepidoptera, Butterfly, Lycaenidae


Butterflies are charismatic insects that have long been a focus of biological research. They are also habitats for microorganisms, yet these microbial symbionts are little-studied, despite their likely importance to butterfly ecology and evolution. In particular, the diversity and composition of the microbial communities inhabiting adult butterflies remain uncharacterized, and it is unknown how the larval (caterpillar) and adult microbiota compare. To address these knowledge gaps, we used Illumina sequencing of 16S rRNA genes from internal bacterial communities associated with multiple life stages of the neotropical butterfly Heliconius erato. We found that the leaf-chewing larvae and nectar- and pollen-feeding adults of H. erato contain markedly distinct bacterial communities, a pattern presumably rooted in their distinct diets. Larvae and adult butterflies host relatively small and similar numbers of bacterial phylotypes, but few are common to both stages. The larval microbiota clearly simplifies and reorganizes during metamorphosis; thus, structural changes in a butterfly’s bacterial community parallel those in its own morphology. We furthermore identify specific bacterial taxa that may mediate larval and adult feeding biology in Heliconius and other butterflies. Although male and female Heliconius adults differ in reproductive physiology and degree of pollen feeding, bacterial communities associated with H. erato are not sexually dimorphic. Lastly, we show that captive and wild individuals host different microbiota, a finding that may have important implications for the relevance of experimental studies using captive butterflies.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Biology, Insect, Larva, Lepidoptera, Caterpillar, Butterfly


The life-like fidelity of organisms captured in amber is unique among all kinds of fossilization and represents an invaluable source for different fields of palaeontological and biological research. One of the most challenging aspects in amber research is the study of traits related to behaviour. Here, indirect evidence for pheromone-mediated mating behaviour is recorded from a biting midge (Ceratopogonidae) in 54 million-year-old Indian amber. Camptopterohelea odora n. sp. exhibits a complex, pocket shaped structure on the wings, which resembles the wing folds of certain moth flies (Diptera: Psychodidae) and scent organs that are only known from butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) so far. Our studies suggests that pheromone releasing structures on the wings have evolved independently in biting midges and might be much more widespread in fossil as well as modern insects than known so far.

Concepts: Nematocera, Insect, Order, Lepidoptera, Flies, Pollinators, Moth, Butterfly


We present the draft 273 Mb genome of the migratory monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) and a set of 16,866 protein-coding genes. Orthology properties suggest that the Lepidoptera are the fastest evolving insect order yet examined. Compared to the silkmoth Bombyx mori, the monarch genome shares prominent similarity in orthology content, microsynteny, and protein family sizes. The monarch genome reveals a vertebrate-like opsin whose existence in insects is widespread; a full repertoire of molecular components for the monarch circadian clockwork; all members of the juvenile hormone biosynthetic pathway whose regulation shows unexpected sexual dimorphism; additional molecular signatures of oriented flight behavior; microRNAs that are differentially expressed between summer and migratory butterflies; monarch-specific expansions of chemoreceptors potentially important for long-distance migration; and a variant of the sodium/potassium pump that underlies a valuable chemical defense mechanism. The monarch genome enhances our ability to better understand the genetic and molecular basis of long-distance migration.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Insect, Lepidoptera, Moth, Butterfly, Nymphalidae


Adaptation to divergent ecological niches can result in speciation. Traits subject to disruptive selection that also contribute to non-random mating will facilitate speciation with gene flow. Such ‘magic’ or ‘multiple-effect’ traits may be widespread and important for generating biodiversity, but strong empirical evidence is still lacking. Although there is evidence that putative ecological traits are indeed involved in assortative mating, evidence that these same traits are under divergent selection is considerably weaker. Heliconius butterfly wing patterns are subject to positive frequency-dependent selection by predators, owing to aposematism and Müllerian mimicry, and divergent colour patterns are used by closely related species to recognize potential mates. The amenability of colour patterns to experimental manipulation, independent of other traits, presents an excellent opportunity to test their role during speciation. We conducted field experiments with artificial butterflies, designed to match natural butterflies with respect to avian vision. These were complemented with enclosure trials with live birds and real butterflies. Our experiments showed that hybrid colour-pattern phenotypes are attacked more frequently than parental forms. For the first time, we demonstrate disruptive ecological selection on a trait that also acts as a mating cue.

Concepts: Natural selection, Evolution, Ecology, Empiricism, Lepidoptera, Selection, Butterfly, Disruptive selection


Male adult butterflies of many species have characteristic odors originating from the disseminating organs known as androconia. Despite the fact that androconia exist in several species, there have been few investigations on adult scents from the lycaenid species. Celastrina argiolus ladonides (Lycaenidae) is a common species in Eurasia. We have reported that male adults of this species emit a faint odor, and the major components causing this odor have been newly found in the Insecta. By using field-caught individuals, we determined the chemical nature and location of this odor in the butterfly. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) analyses revealed that two lactone compounds, lavender lactone and δ-decalactone, are present in the extracts of males but absent in those of the females. On an average, approximately 50 ng of each compound was found per male. Chiral GC analyses performed using enantiomerically pure standards revealed that the natural lavender lactone was a mixture of two enantiomers with an R/S ratio of 32:68, whereas the natural δ-decalactone contained only the R-enantiomer. When the analyses were conducted using different parts-forewings, hindwings, and body-of three males, the lactones were more abundantly found on the forewings and hindwings than on the body. Microscopic observation of the wings demonstrated that battledore scales known as androconia are scattered on the upper surface of both the wings of C. argiolus ladonides males. These results indicate that the specialized scales on the wings of males serve as scent-disseminating organs.

Concepts: Insect, Olfaction, Chemical compound, Odor, Lepidoptera, Aroma compound, Butterfly, Lycaenidae