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Concept: Lepidoptera


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


A near-perfect mimetic association between a mecopteran insect species and a ginkgoalean plant species from the late Middle Jurassic of northeastern China recently has been discovered. The association stems from a case of mixed identity between a particular plant and an insect in the laboratory and the field. This confusion is explained as a case of leaf mimesis, wherein the appearance of the multilobed leaf of Yimaia capituliformis (the ginkgoalean model) was accurately replicated by the wings and abdomen of the cimbrophlebiid Juracimbrophlebia ginkgofolia (the hangingfly mimic). Our results suggest that hangingflies developed leaf mimesis either as an antipredator avoidance device or possibly as a predatory strategy to provide an antiherbivore function for its plant hosts, thus gaining mutual benefit for both the hangingfly and the ginkgo species. This documentation of mimesis is a rare occasion whereby exquisitely preserved, co-occurring fossils occupy a narrow spatiotemporal window that reveal likely reciprocal mechanisms which plants and insects provide mutual defensive support during their preangiospermous evolutionary histories.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Plant, Mimicry, Leaf, Lepidoptera, Ginkgo, Batesian mimicry


The role of bats or any generalist predator in suppressing prey populations depends on the predator’s ability to track and exploit available prey. Using a qPCR fecal DNA assay, we document significant association between numbers of Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) consuming corn earworm (CEW) moths (Helicoverpa zea) and seasonal fluctuations in CEW populations. This result is consistent with earlier research linking the bats' diet to patterns of migration, abundance, and crop infestation by important insect pests. Here we confirm opportunistic feeding on one of the world’s most destructive insects and support model estimates of the bats' ecosystem services. Regression analysis of CEW consumption versus the moth’s abundance at four insect trapping sites further indicates that bats track local abundance of CEW within the regional landscape. Estimates of CEW gene copies in the feces of bats are not associated with seasonal or local patterns of CEW abundance, and results of captive feeding experiments indicate that our qPCR assay does not provide a direct measure of numbers or biomass of prey consumed. Our results support growing evidence for the role of generalist predators, and bats specifically, as agents for biological control and speak to the value of conserving indigenous generalist predators.

Concepts: Insect, Predation, Ecology, Maize, Lepidoptera, Biological pest control, Moth, Mexican Free-tailed Bat


Yponomeutoidea, one of the early-diverging lineages of ditrysian Lepidoptera, comprise about 1,800 species worldwide, including notable pests and insect-plant interaction models. Yponomeutoids were one of the earliest lepidopteran clades to evolve external feeding and to extensively colonize herbaceous angiosperms. Despite the group’s economic importance, and its value for tracing early lepidopteran evolution, the biodiversity and phylogeny of Yponomeutoidea have been relatively little studied.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Insect, Phylogenetics, Lepidoptera, Biological classification, Ditrysia


Survey data over the last 100 years indicate that populations of the endemic Hawaiian leafroller moth, Omiodes continuatalis (Wallengren) (Lepidoptera: Crambidae), have declined, and the species is extirpated from large portions of its original range. Declines have been attributed largely to the invasion of non-native parasitoid species into Hawaiian ecosystems. To quantify changes in O. continuatalis distribution, we applied the maximum entropy modeling approach using Maxent. The model referenced historical (1892-1967) and current (2004-2008) survey data, to create predictive habitat suitability maps which illustrate the probability of occurrence of O. continuatalis based on historical data as contrasted with recent survey results. Probability of occurrence is predicted based on the association of biotic (vegetation) and abiotic (proxy of precipitation, proxy of temperature, elevation) environmental factors with 141 recent and historic survey locations, 38 of which O. continuatalis were collected from. Models built from the historical and recent surveys suggest habitat suitable for O. continuatalis has changed significantly over time, decreasing both in quantity and quality. We reference these data to examine the potential effects of non-native parasitoids as a factor in changing habitat suitability and range contraction for O. continuatalis. Synthesis and applications: Our results suggest that the range of O. continuatalis, an endemic Hawaiian species of conservation concern, has shrunk as its environment has degraded. Although few range shifts have been previously demonstrated in insects, such contractions caused by pressure from introduced species may be important factors in insect extinctions.

Concepts: Insect, Ecology, Futurology, Change, Lepidoptera, Hymenoptera, Principle of maximum entropy, Tortricidae


Mid-Mesozoic kalligrammatid lacewings (Neuroptera) entered the fossil record 165 million years ago (Ma) and disappeared 45 Ma later. Extant papilionoid butterflies (Lepidoptera) probably originated 80-70 Ma, long after kalligrammatids became extinct. Although poor preservation of kalligrammatid fossils previously prevented their detailed morphological and ecological characterization, we examine new, well-preserved, kalligrammatid fossils from Middle Jurassic and Early Cretaceous sites in northeastern China to unravel a surprising array of similar morphological and ecological features in these two, unrelated clades. We used polarized light and epifluorescence photography, SEM imaging, energy dispersive spectrometry and time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometry to examine kalligrammatid fossils and their environment. We mapped the evolution of specific traits onto a kalligrammatid phylogeny and discovered that these extinct lacewings convergently evolved wing eyespots that possibly contained melanin, and wing scales, elongate tubular proboscides, similar feeding styles, and seed-plant associations, similar to butterflies. Long-proboscid kalligrammatid lacewings lived in ecosystems with gymnosperm-insect relationships and likely accessed bennettitalean pollination drops and pollen. This system later was replaced by mid-Cretaceous angiosperms and their insect pollinators.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Pollination, Lepidoptera, Extinction, Cretaceous, Fossil, Dinosaur


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


1. Moths (Lepidoptera) are the major nocturnal pollinators of flowers. However, their importance and contribution to the provision of pollination ecosystem services may have been under-appreciated. Evidence was identified that moths are important pollinators of a diverse range of plant species in diverse ecosystems across the world. 2. Moth populations are known to be undergoing significant declines in several European countries. Among the potential drivers of this decline is increasing light pollution. The known and possible effects of artificial night lighting upon moths were reviewed, and suggest how artificial night lighting might in turn affect the provision of pollination by moths. The need for studies of the effects of artificial night lighting upon whole communities of moths was highlighted. 3. An ecological network approach is one valuable method to consider the effects of artificial night lighting upon the provision of pollination by moths, as it provides useful insights into ecosystem functioning and stability, and may help elucidate the indirect effects of artificial light upon communities of moths and the plants they pollinate. 4. It was concluded that nocturnal pollination is an ecosystem process that may potentially be disrupted by increasing light pollution, although the nature of this disruption remains to be tested.

Concepts: Biodiversity, Insect, Ecology, Ecosystem, Pollination, Lighting, Light pollution, Lepidoptera


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