Butterfly in winter in England


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How butterflies choose mates


This 28 March 2018 video says about itself:

The Remarkable Way that Butterflies Mate

Did you know butterflies mate while facing away from each other?

From PLOS:

Butterflies are genetically wired to choose a mate that looks just like them

February 7, 2019

Male butterflies have genes which give them a sexual preference for a partner with a similar appearance to themselves, according to new research. In a study publishing February 7th in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, a team of academics from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, observed the courtship rituals and sequenced the DNA from nearly 300 butterflies to find out how much of the genome was responsible for their mating behavior.

This is one of the first ever genome studies to look at butterfly behavior and it unlocks the secrets of evolution to help explain how new species are formed. The scientists sequenced the DNA from two different species of Heliconius butterflies which live either side of the Andes mountains in Colombia. Heliconians have evolved to produce their own cyanide which makes them highly poisonous and they have distinct and brightly colored wings which act as a warning to would-be predators.

Professor Chris Jiggins of the University of Cambridge, one of the lead authors on the paper, said: “There has previously been lots of research done on finding genes for things like color patterns on the butterfly wing, but it’s been more difficult to locate the genes that underlie changes in behavior.

“What we found was surprisingly simple — three regions of the genome explain a lot of their behaviors. There’s a small region of the genome that has some very big effects.”

The male butterflies were introduced to female butterflies of two species and were scored for their levels of sexual interest directed towards each. The scientists rated each session based on the number of minutes of courtship by the male — shown by sustained hovering near or actively chasing the females.

Unlike many butterflies which use scented chemical signals to identify a mate, Heliconians use their long-range vision to locate the females, which is why it’s important each species has distinct wing markings.

When a hybrid between the two species was introduced, the male would most commonly show a preference for a mate with similar markings to itself. The research showed the same area of the genome that controlled the coloration of the wings was responsible for defining a sexual preference for those same wing patterns.

Dr Richard Merrill, one of the authors of the paper, based at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität, Munich, said: “It explains why hybrid butterflies are so rare — there is a strong genetic preference for similar partners which mostly stops inter-species breeding. This genetic structure promotes long-term evolution of new species by reducing intermixing with others.”

The paper is one of two publishing together in PLOS Biology; the second study investigated how factors — including mate preference — act to prevent genetic mixing between the same two species of butterfly. They discovered that despite the rarity of hybrid butterflies — as a result of their reluctance to mate with one another — a surprisingly large amount of DNA has been shared between the species through hybridization. There has been ten times more sharing between these butterfly species than occurred between Neanderthals and humans.

Dr Simon Martin, one of the authors of the second paper, from the University of Edinburgh, explained: “Over a million years a very small number of hybrids in a generation is enough to significantly reshape the genomes of these butterflies.”

Despite this genetic mixing, the distinct appearance and behaviors of the two species remain intact, and have not become blended. The researchers found that there are many areas of the genome that define each species, and these are maintained by natural selection, which weeds out the foreign genes. In particular, the part of the genome that defines the sex of the butterflies is protected from the effects of inter-species mating.

As with the genetics that control mating behavior, these genes enable each butterfly type to maintain its distinctiveness and help ensure long-term survival of the species.

But can the findings translate into other species, including humans? Professor Jiggins said: “In terms of behavior, humans are unique in their capacity for learning and cultural changes, but our behavior is also influenced by our genes. Studies of simpler organisms such as butterflies can shed light on how our own behavior has evolved. Some of the patterns of gene sharing we see between the butterflies have also been documented in comparisons of the human and Neanderthal genomes, so there is another link to our own evolution.”

“Next we would like to know how novel behavior can arise and what kind of genetic changes you need to alter behavior. We already know that you can make different wing patterns by editing the genes. These studies suggest that potentially new behaviors could come about by putting different genes together in new combinations.”

Pollinating butterflies need forests


This 2016 video shows butterflies in Sweden, including a comma butterfly, drinking a birch tree’s sap.

From Linköping University in Sweden:

Butterflies thrive in grasslands surrounded by forest

February 1, 2019

For pollinating butterflies, it is more important to be close to forests than to agricultural fields, according to a study of 32,000 butterflies by researchers at Linköping University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala. The results provide important knowledge about how to plan and manage the landscape to ensure the survival of butterflies.

Semi-natural grasslands are one of Sweden’s most species-rich habitats, with a multitude of plants and butterflies. However, the amount of such areas has been reduced by 90% in the past 100 years. Semi-natural grasslands are often preserved as just small fragments in the landscape. Their loss has led to many species of butterfly being decimated, and in some cases eliminated from parts of Sweden. The researchers who carried out the new study, published in the scientific journal Landscape Ecology, have investigated how the landscape around these fragments influences different species of butterfly in southern Sweden. A total of 32,000 butterflies from 77 species were found.

“Several of our results are really exciting, and demonstrate that the species richness of semi-natural grasslands is influenced by other factors than the properties of the grasslands themselves. The surrounding landscape is also important for butterflies. If the semi-natural grasslands are embedded within large regions of arable land, the number of species is reduced,” says Karl-Olof Bergman, senior lecturer in the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, IFM.

The species richness of butterflies was in general greater in locations where large areas of semi-natural grasslands lay within 10-20 kilometres around the studied semi-natural grassland. Another important landscape feature linked to a larger number of butterfly species was if the grasslands were surrounded by forest.

“Forests have habitats that butterfly can use, such as forest edges, power lines, forestry tracks, glades and cleared areas. Together with semi-natural grasslands, forests can be used to create landscapes that butterflies thrive in. Agricultural fields, in contrast, seem to have few resources that the butterflies can use, and the resources that are available benefit only a few species,” says Karl-Olof Bergman.

Different species of butterfly reacted differently to the surrounding landscape. Some species were sensitive to the immediate vicinity, while others were influenced by the composition of the surrounding landscape further away from the semi-natural grasslands.

“These results are important if we are to preserve the butterflies and other pollinators in the countryside, and create and preserve landscape that enables them to survive. The most species-rich regions for butterflies in southern Sweden are those that still have relatively large areas of semi-natural grasslands, principally in eastern Sweden including parts of Östergötland. It is important that these habitats are preserved,” says Karl-Olof Bergman.

The study used data about butterflies from NILS, the National Inventory of Landscapes in Sweden. The research has been financed by, among other bodies, WWF Sweden, the Formas research council, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, and the Swedish Board of Agriculture.

Butterflies of Vlieland island


This 2018 video is about butterflies of Vlieland island in the Netherlands. There are no pesticides on Vlieland, which is good for butterflies. Among Vlieland species are, eg, Niobe fritillary, dark green fritillary and Queen of Spain fritillary.

Trump attacks US National Butterfly Center


This 13 December 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Trump To Destroy National Butterfly Center

Will the National Butterfly Center survive Trump? John Iadarola discusses Trump destroying the National Butterfly Center on The Damage Report.

New swallowtail butterfly species discovery in Fiji


Papilio natewa. Photo by Greg Kerr

The large swallowtail butterfly, now named Papilio natewa, was first photographed in 2017 by Australian ornithologist Greg Kerr, working with Operation Wallacea.

From the University of Oxford in England:

New species of Swallowtail butterfly discovered in Fiji

October 30, 2018

A spectacular new butterfly species has been discovered on the Pacific Island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. The species, named last week as Papilio natewa after the Natewa Peninsula where it was found, is a remarkable discovery in a location where butterfly wildlife was thought to be well known.

The large Swallowtail was first photographed in 2017 by Australian ornithologist Greg Kerr, working with Operation Wallacea, an international organisation which supports school students in science projects.

Specialists around the world were puzzled when Kerr’s photograph was sent for identification. It was not until earlier this year, during a second fieldtrip to Fiji, that it was confirmed as a species new to science by John Tennent, Honorary Associate at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, and Scientific Associate of the Natural History Museum, London.

“For such an unusual and large new butterfly to be discovered somewhere we thought was so well known is remarkable”, said John Tennant, who is a Pacific butterfly specialist. The species was named by Tennant and colleagues in Fiji and Australia in a paper published this month in Entomologischer Verein Apollo.

Tennant has spent long periods in the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands and eastern Papua New Guinea and has found and named over a hundred new species and subspecies of butterflies in the last 25 years. But he describes the new Natewa Swallowtail as “easily the most spectacular.” The find is especially remarkable because there are only two Swallowtail butterfly species previously known from this part of the Pacific, and only one from Fiji.

“Because they are large, conspicuous and often beautiful in appearance, Swallowtail butterflies have been intensively studied for over 150 years”, says James Hogan, manager of butterfly (Lepidoptera) collections at Oxford University Museum of Natural History.

“To find a new species like this, not only in a small and reasonably well-studied area like Fiji, but also one which looks unlike any other Swallowtail is truly exceptional. For John Tennent, Greg Kerr and the rest of the team this really is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.”

The Natewa Swallowtail has remained undiscovered for so long perhaps due to its habits and the geological history of the islands. Unusually for a Swallowtail, it seems to be a true forest species, spending most of its life inside the forest at elevations above 250 metres, on land with restrict access rights.

“It does make you wonder what else awaits discovery in the world’s wild places. The key to finding new and interesting things is simply to go and look”, adds Tennant.