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Twitter Q&A

Dr Chris Jiggins and Dr John Davey, from University of Cambridge, hosted a Twitter Q&A on 1 July 2014 where they talked about butterfly evolution.

Read the storify of the Twitter chat.

Find out more about other exhibits hosting Q&As.

Hands-on at this exhibit

  • See live butterflies from Central and South America
  • Build your own butterfly wing patterns
  • Play our butterfly hunting game to see how wing pattern genes evolve
  • Learn how scientists studied butterflies in Darwin’s time and today

Twitter

Further reading

Heliconius Genome Consortium 2012 Butterfly genome reveals promiscuous exchange of mimicry adaptations among species. Nature 487, 94-98

Nadeau, N. J. et al. 2012 Genomic islands of divergence in hybridizing Heliconius butterflies identified by large-scale targeted sequencing. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 367, 343-353

Mavárez, J. et al. 2006 Speciation by hybridization in Heliconius butterflies. Nature 441, 868-871

The bright, bold wing patterns of Heliconius butterflies tell predators that these butterflies are distasteful prey. This was a dramatic example of natural selection for early naturalists such as Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin. We now use these patterns to understand how genes control the diversity of animal patterning. We show that small changes in DNA sequences can translate into dramatic differences in colour patterns between butterfly species.

 
We now know that small changes in DNA sequences can translate into dramatic differences in colour patterns between butterfly species. Get closer to the beautiful Heliconius butterfly and discover how genes control the diversity of animal patterning.

We  studied the evolution of mimicry, where different species evolve similar wing patterns and see this convergence as a natural evolutionary experiment. By studying the genetic basis of mimicry we have shown that the same patterns arise between distantly related species independently, through different mutations in the same genes.

In contrast, using complete sequencing of genomes from many butterflies, we have shown wing pattern genes have been transmitted between closely related species by sexual hybridization. This implies that occasional inter-breeding between species can transfer beneficial genetic variation, with implications for our own species, given recent evidence for hybridization between humans and Neanderthals.

Lead image: A Heliconius erato demophoon butterfly in Gamboa, Panama, feeding on hotlips flowers.