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Concept: Pieridae


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


In recent years, a considerable number of pierid butterflies of the genus Delias have been found from Jinmen Islands, where no available hostplants grow, rendering a proof of cross sea water migration of these butterflies. It is suggested here that these butterflies come from nearby continent of eastern China, visiting the islands for nectar acquisition in seasons when nectar is in short supply because they mostly show up in autumn months. Samples obtained during the survey contained two species, namely Delias pasithoe (Linnaeus, 1767) and Delias acalis (Godart, 1819). Subspecific names applied to both species in eastern China appear to involve nomenclatural problems, with erroneous usage in recent literature.

Concepts: Autumn, Noun, Binomial nomenclature, Ocean, Name, International Code of Zoological Nomenclature, Nomenclature, Pieridae


Understanding and predicting phenology has become more important with ongoing climate change and has brought about great research efforts in the recent decades. The majority of studies examining spring phenology of insects have focussed on the effects of spring temperatures alone. Here we use citizen-collected observation data to show that winter cold duration, in addition to spring temperature, can affect the spring emergence of butterflies. Using spatial mixed models, we disentangle the effects of climate variables and reveal impacts of both spring and winter conditions for five butterfly species that overwinter as pupae across the UK, with data from 1976 to 2013 and one butterfly species in Sweden, with data from 2001 to 2013. Warmer springs lead to earlier emergence in all species and milder winters lead to statistically significant delays in three of the five investigated species. We also find that the delaying effect of winter warmth has become more pronounced in the last decade, during which time winter durations have become shorter. For one of the studied species, Anthocharis cardamines (orange tip butterfly), we also make use of parameters determined from previous experiments on pupal development to model the spring phenology. Using daily temperatures in the UK and Sweden, we show that recent variation in spring temperature corresponds to 10-15 day changes in emergence time over UK and Sweden, whereas variation in winter duration corresponds to 20 days variation in the south of the UK versus only 3 days in the south of Sweden. In summary, we show that short winters delay phenology. The effect is most prominent in areas with particularly mild winters, emphasising the importance of winter for the response of ectothermic animals to climate change. With climate change, these effects may become even stronger and apply also at higher latitudes.

Concepts: Time, Insect, Climate, Weather, Winter, Butterfly, Pieridae, Orange Tip


Pieridae is a butterfly family whose evolutionary history is poorly understood. Due to the difficulties in identifying morphological synapomorphies within the group and the scarcity of the fossil records, only a few studies on higher phylogeny of Pieridae have been reported to date. In this study, we describe the complete mitochondrial genomes of four pierid butterfly species (Aporia martineti, Aporia hippia, Aporia bieti, and Mesapia peloria), in order to better characterize the pierid butterfly mitogenomes and perform the phylogenetic analyses using all available mitogenomic sequence data (13PCGs, rRNAs, and tRNAs) from the 18 pierid butterfly species comprising the three main subfamilies (Dismorphiinae, Coliadinae and Pierinae). Our analysis shows that the four new mitogenomes share similar features with other known pierid mitogenomes in gene order and organization. Phylogenetic analyses by maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference show that the pierid higher-level relationship is: Dismorphiinae + (Coliadinae + Pierinae), which corroborates the results of some previous molecular and morphological studies. However, we found that the Hebomoia and Anthocharis make a sister group, supporting the traditional tribe Anthocharidini; in addition, the Mesapia peloria was shown to be clustered within the Aporia group, suggesting that the genus Mesapia should be reduced to the taxonomic status of subgenus. Our molecular dating analysis indicates that the family Pieridae began to diverge during the Late Cretaceous about 92 million years ago (mya), while the subfamily Pierinae diverged from the Coliadinae at about 86 mya (Late Cretaceous).

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Species, Phylogenetics, Cladistics, Order, Taxonomic rank, Pieridae


Our possibility to appropriately detect, interpret and respond to climate-driven phenological changes depends on our ability to model and predict the changes. This ability may be hampered by non-linearity in climate-phenological relations, and by spatiotemporal variability and scale mismatches of climate and phenological data. A modeling methodology capable of handling such complexities can be a powerful tool for phenological change projection. Here we develop such a methodology using citizen scientists' observations of first flight dates for orange tip butterflies (Anthocharis cardamines) in three areas extending along a steep climate gradient. The developed methodology links point data of first flight observations to calculated cumulative degree-days until first flight based on gridded temperature data. Using this methodology we identify and quantify a first flight model that is consistent across different regions, data support scales and assumptions of subgrid variability and observation bias. Model application to observed warming over the past 60 years demonstrates the model usefulness for assessment of climate-driven first flight change. The cross-regional consistency of the model implies predictive capability for future changes, and calls for further application and testing of analogous modeling approaches to other species, phenological variables and parts of the world.

Concepts: Scientific method, Observation, Philosophy of science, Hypothesis, Pieridae, Orange Tip, Anthocharis, Anthocharis cardamines phoenissa


Knowledge of how species interactions are influenced by climate warming is paramount to understand current biodiversity changes. We review phenological changes of Swedish butterflies during the latest decades and explore potential climate effects on butterfly-host plant interactions using the Orange tip butterfly Anthocharis cardamines and its host plants as a model system. This butterfly has advanced its appearance dates substantially, and its mean flight date shows a positive correlation with latitude. We show that there is a large latitudinal variation in host use and that butterfly populations select plant individuals based on their flowering phenology. We conclude that A. cardamines is a phenological specialist but a host species generalist. This implies that thermal plasticity for spring development influences host utilization of the butterfly through effects on the phenological matching with its host plants. However, the host utilization strategy of A. cardamines appears to render it resilient to relatively large variation in climate.

Concepts: Species, Climate change, Global warming, Pieridae, Orange Tip, Anthocharis, Anthocharis cardamines phoenissa, Anthocharini


Diapause plays a central role in insect life cycles by allowing survival during adverse seasonal conditions as well as synchronizing life cycles with the period of mate and food availability. Seasonal timing is expected to be particularly important for species that are dependent on resources available during a short time window-so-called phenological specialists-and latitudinal clines in seasonality are expected to favor local adaptation in phenological timing. However, to what degree latitudinal variation in diapause dynamics and post-winter development due to such local adaptation is influenced by the degree of phenological specialization is not well known. We experimentally studied two pierid butterfly species and found that the phenological specialist Anthocharis cardamines had shorter diapause duration than the phenological generalist Pieris napi along a latitudinal gradient in Sweden. Moreover, diapause duration increased with latitude in P. napi but not in A. cardamines. Sensitivity of the two species to winter thermal conditions also differed; additional cold temperature during the winter period shortened diapause duration for P. napi pupae but not for A. cardamines pupae. In both species, post-winter pupal development was faster after longer periods of cold conditions, and more southern populations developed faster than northern populations. Post-winter development was also invariably faster at higher temperatures in both species. We argue that the observed differences in diapause dynamics between the two species might be explained by the difference in phenological specialization that influences the costs of breaking diapause too early in the season.

Concepts: Insect, Temperature, Menstrual cycle, Period, Winter, Butterfly, Pupa, Pieridae


The temporal aspects of life cycle characteristics, such as diapause development, are under strong selection in seasonal environments. Fine-tuning of the life cycle may be particularly important to match the phenology of potential mates and resources as well as for optimizing abiotic conditions at eclosion. Here, we experimentally study the spring phenology of the orange tip butterfly, Anthocharis cardamines, by analysing post-winter pupal development in three populations along a latitudinal cline in each of Sweden and the United Kingdom. These countries differ substantially in their seasonal temperature profile. By repeatedly recording pupal weights, we established that post-winter development has two separate phases, with a more rapid weight loss in the second phase than in the first, likely corresponding to a ramping up of the rate of development. Variation in the duration of the first phase contributed more strongly than the second phase to the differences in phenology between the localities and sexes. We found that insects from Sweden had a faster overall rate of development than those from the United Kingdom, which is consistent with countergradient variation, as Sweden is colder during the spring than the United Kingdom. Similar trends were not observed at the within-country scale, however. A cogradient pattern was found within Sweden, with populations from the north developing more slowly, and there was no clear latitudinal trend within the United Kingdom. In all localities, males developed faster than females. Our results point to the importance of variation in the progression of post-winter development for spring phenology.

Concepts: Male, Insect, United Kingdom, Pupa, Pieridae, Orange Tip, Anthocharis


The Northeast-Asian Wood White Leptidea amurensis (Lepidoptera, Pieridae) belongs to Dismorphiinae, a subfamily of the family Pieridae. We here studied the structure of the compound eye in this species through a combination of anatomy, molecular biology and intracellular electrophysiology, with a particular focus on the evolution of butterfly eyes. We found that their eyes consist of three types of ommatidia, with a basic set of one short, one middle and one long wavelength-absorbing visual pigment. The spectral sensitivities of the photoreceptors are rather simple, and peak in the ultraviolet, blue and green wavelength regions. The ommatidia have neither perirhabdomal nor fluorescent pigments, which modulate photoreceptor spectral sensitivities in a number of other butterfly species. These features are primitive, but the eyes of Leptidea exhibit another unique feature: the rough appearance of the ventral two-thirds of the eye. The roughness is due to the irregular distribution of facets of two distinct sizes. As this phenomenon exists only in males, it may represent a newly evolved sex-related feature.

Concepts: Evolution, Molecular biology, Biology, Eye, Photoreceptor cell, Butterfly, Pieridae, Dismorphiinae


BACKGROUND: Little is currently known about wing pattern development in the butterfly family Pieridae, which consists mostly of black melanized elements on white or yellow/orange backgrounds. A single transcription factor, Spalt (Sal), has been previously associated with the development of some pattern elements in Pieris rapae, but it is unclear to what extent Sal is associated with patterns in other pierid species. RESULTS: We use immunohistochemistry targeting Sal proteins across several pierids and show that Sal is associated with dense patches of melanization across species but is not associated with vein-melanization or diffuse melanization on the wing. In addition, Sal is expressed along cross-veins and wing compartment midlines that do not develop melanization. Male and female P. rapae spots are sexually dimorphic in size and this dimorphism is also present in the domains of Sal expression. Finally, by disrupting cells positioned in the center of the anterior black spots of P. rapae, before and during the time of Sal expression, spot size was reduced. CONCLUSIONS: Our results suggest, but do not conclusively show, that pierid spots may develop in a manner similar to that of nymphalid eyespots, that is, containing a group of signaling cells at the center of the pattern responsible for the differentiation of the complete spot, and that spots and eyespots share at least one signal-response gene in common, the transcription factor Sal. We propose that focal differentiation and focal signaling mechanisms evolved prior to the split of the nymphalid and pierid lineages.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Gene expression, Developmental biology, Sexual dimorphism, Butterfly, Pieridae