Alfred Wallace and Taiwanese butterflies, new research


This 2007 video says about itself:

Seen at the butterfly garden at Waalre, the Netherlands: Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

From ScienceDaily:

Over a century later, the mystery of the Alfred Wallace’s butterfly is solved

September 10, 2020

An over a century-long mystery has been surrounding the Taiwanese butterfly fauna ever since the “father of zoogeography” Alfred Russel Wallace, in collaboration with Frederic Moore, authored a landmark paper in 1866: the first to study the lepidopterans of the island.

Back then, in their study, Moore dealt with the moths portion and Wallace investigated the butterflies. Together, they reported 139 species, comprising 93 nocturnal 46 diurnal species, respectively. Of the latter, five species were described as new to science. Even though the correct placements of four out of those five butterflies in question have been verified a number of times since 1886, one of those butterflies: Lycaena nisa, would never be re-examined until very recently.

In a modern-day research project on Taiwanese butterflies, scientists retrieved the original type specimen from the Wallace collection at The [Natural] History Museum of London, UK. Having also examined historical specimens housed at the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute, in addition to newly collected butterflies from Australia and Hong Kong, Dr Yu-Feng Hsu of the National Taiwan Normal University finally resolved the identity of the mysterious Alfred Wallace’s butterfly: it is now going by the name Famegana nisa (comb. nov.), while two other species names (Lycaena alsulus and Zizeeria alsulus eggletoni) were proven to have been coined for the same butterfly after the original description by Wallace. Thereby, the latter two are both synonymised with Famegana nisa.

Despite having made entomologists scratch their heads for over a century, in the wild, the Wallace’s butterfly is good at standing out. As long as one knows what else lives in the open grassy habitats around, of course. Commonly known as ‘Grass Blue’, ‘Small Grass Blue’ or ‘Black-spotted Grass Blue’, the butterfly can be easily distinguished amongst the other local species by its uniformly greyish-white undersides of the wings, combined with obscure submarginal bands and a single prominent black spot on the hindwing.

However, the species demonstrates high seasonal variability, meaning that individuals reared in the dry season have a reduced black spot, darker ground colour on wing undersides and more distinct submarginal bands in comparison to specimens from the wet season. This is why Dr Yu-Feng Hsu notes that it’s perhaps unnecessary to split the species into subspecies even though there have been up to four already recognised.

Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist, explorer, geographer, anthropologist, biologist and illustrator, was a contemporary of Charles Darwin, and also worked on the debates within evolutionary theory, including natural selection. He also authored the famed book Darwinism in 1889, which explained and defended natural selection.

While Darwin and Wallace did exchange ideas, often challenging each other’s conclusions, they worked out the idea of natural selection each on their own. In his part, Wallace insisted that there was indeed a strong reason why a certain species would evolve. Unlike Darwin, Wallace argued that rather than a random natural process, evolution was occurring to maintain a species’ fitness to the specificity of its environment. Wallace was also one of the first prominent scientists to voice concerns about the environmental impact of human activity.

Brush-footed butterflies’ sex life, new research


This 2014 video says about itself:

Brush-footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae)

A thirty-second video clip showing three different Brush-footed butterflies.

From the Florida Museum of Natural History in the USA:

In butterfly battle of sexes, males deploy ‘chastity belts’ but females fight back

September 3, 2020

Some male butterflies go to extreme lengths to ensure their paternity — sealing their mate’s genitalia with a waxy “chastity belt” to prevent future liaisons. But female butterflies can fight back by evolving larger or more complex organs that are tougher to plug. Males, in turn, counterattack by fastening on even more fantastic structures with winglike projections, slippery scales or pointy hooks.

It’s a battle that pits male and female reproductive interests against one another, with the losing sex evolving adaptations to thwart the winner’s strategies.

Could this sexual one-upmanship ultimately result in new species? It’s a longstanding hypothesis and one that would help explain how butterflies became so diverse. But it has proven difficult to test.

Ana Paula dos Santos de Carvalho, a doctoral student in the Kawahara Lab at the Florida Museum of Natural History, tackled the question in a study of mating plugs in brush-footed butterflies. She traced the trait’s evolution and analyzed the rate at which new species appeared across the Acraeini tribe, a group of about 300 species.

Unexpectedly, lineages with and without mating plugs evolved at the same rate, suggesting other factors such as habitat may be responsible for driving the insects’ diversity.

“I was expecting to see an association between plugs and new species appearing faster, but my work suggested there was no link at all,” Carvalho said. “Other studies had proposed a connection between sexual conflict and diversity, so these results came as a surprise.”

Found in about 1% of butterfly species, external mating plugs, also known as sphragis, can resemble a scab or a blob of petroleum jelly in some species while others take astonishingly architectural forms.

But they all serve the same purpose: enforcing female monogamy. Because a female butterfly fertilizes the majority of her eggs with sperm from her last partner, males have a vested interest in blocking rivals. Females, however, stand to benefit by mating with more than one male. Another partner may provide higher-quality sperm, and multiple mating events can increase the genetic diversity of offspring. Plus, females get a health boost from the nutrients included in males’ sperm packets.

To help guarantee their own successors, males in plug-producing species omit the courtship behavior that often precedes mating in other butterflies. Instead, “males pursue the females, grab them midair and drag them to the ground,” Carvalho said. After depositing their sperm, males excrete a pre-molded mating plug, which hardens on the female’s abdomen.

Plugs may indirectly constrain males as well. Making a mating plug is an expensive investment of time and resources, potentially limiting how many females a male can inseminate, she said.

Whether females can remove the plug requires further study, but in her fieldwork and museum specimen analysis, Carvalho noted the structures were often partially broken or missing in species with smaller, more delicate plugs. In species with large, complex plugs, she usually found the structures intact and rarely encountered a female without one — a sign that males may be “winning.”

But Carvalho’s study revealed some female victories as well. In the evolutionary family tree she constructed for Acraeini butterflies, she found evidence that mating plugs originated once across the tribe and were subsequently lost in some species, suggesting a successful female counteroffensive. Wide variations in the shape and size of female genitalia also hint at attempts to render mating plugs ineffective.

“Butterflies and moths continue to surprise us,” said study co-author Akito Kawahara, curator at the Florida Museum’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. “This study suggests we still have a lot to learn about what drives insect diversity and the role sexual conflict plays in evolution.”

Flowers, butterflies of La Palma, Canary islands


This June 2020 video shows flowers, butterflies, other wildlife of La Palma, Canary islands.

Among the butterflies: Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus), a male of Monarch (Danaus plexippus), a female of Small White (Pieris rapae).

Eastern and western North American monarch butterflies


This June 2014 video is called Monarch butterflies amazing migration to Mexico.

From Emory Health Sciences in the USA:

Butterfly genomics: Monarchs migrate and fly differently, but meet up and mate

A genome-wide comparison of eastern and western monarchs

July 29, 2020

Each year, millions of monarch butterflies migrate across eastern North America to fly from as far north as the U.S.-Canadian border to overwinter in central Mexico — covering as much as 3,000 miles. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, western monarchs generally fly 300 miles down to the Pacific Coast to spend the winter in California. It was long believed that the eastern and western monarchs were genetically distinct populations.

A new study, however, confirms that while the eastern and western butterflies fly differently, they are genetically the same. The journal Molecular Ecology published the findings, led by evolutionary biologists at Emory University.

“It was surprising,” says Jaap de Roode, Emory professor of biology and senior author of the study. His lab is one of a handful in the world that studies monarch butterflies.

“You would expect that organisms with different behaviors and ecologies would show some genetic differences,” de Roode says. “But we found that you cannot distinguish genetically between the western and eastern butterflies.”

The current paper builds on previous work by the de Roode lab that found similarities between 11 genetic markers of the eastern and western monarchs, as well as other more limited genetic studies and observational and tracking data.

“This is the first genome-wide comparison of eastern and western monarchs to try to understand their behavioral differences better,” says Venkat Talla, first author of the current study and an Emory post-doctoral fellow in the lab.

Talla analyzed more than 20 million DNA mutations in 43 monarch genomes and found no evidence for genomic differentiation between eastern and western monarchs. Instead, he found identical levels of genetic diversity.

“Our work shows that the eastern and western monarchs are mating together and exchanging genetic material to a much greater extent than was previously realized,” Talla says. “And it adds to the evidence that it is likely differences in their environments that shapes the differences in their patterns of migration.”

Co-author Amanda Pierce, who led the earlier study on 11 genetic markers, launched the project while she was a graduate student in the De Roode Lab.

“Monarch butterflies are so fragile and so lightweight, and yet they are able to travel thousands of miles,” Pierce says. “They are beautiful creatures and a great model system to understand unique, innate behaviors. We know that migration is ingrained in their genetic wiring in some way.”

After monarchs leave their overwintering sites, they fly north and lay eggs. The caterpillars turn into butterflies and then fly further, mating and laying another generation of eggs. The process repeats for several generations until finally, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures cooler, monarchs emerge from their chrysalises and start to fly south. This migratory generation does not expend any energy on breeding or laying eggs, saving it all for the long journey.

“For every butterfly that makes it to California or to Mexico, that’s its first journey there,” Pierce marvels.

Previous work had identified a propensity for the eastern and western monarchs to have slight differences in their wing shapes. For the current paper, the researchers wanted to identify any variations in their flight styles.

They collected eastern monarchs from a migratory stopover site in Saint Marks, Florida, and western monarchs from one of their overwintering sites near Oceano, California. Pierce ran flight trials with the butterflies by tethering them to a mill that restricted their flight patterns to circles with a circumference of about 25 feet. The trials were performed in a laboratory under controlled light and temperature conditions that mimicked overwintering sites. Artificial flowers were arranged around the circumference of the flight mills.

“The idea was to try to give them some semblance of a ‘natural’ environment to help motivate them and to orient them,” Pierce explains.

Butterflies were released unharmed from the flight mills after performing short trials.

The results showed that the eastern monarchs would choose to fly for longer distances while the western monarchs flew shorter distances but with stronger bursts of speed. “The more powerful flight trait of the western monarch is like a sprinter, essentially,” Pierce says, “while the eastern monarchs show a flight trait more like marathoners.”

Pierce has since graduated from Emory and now works as a geneticist for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

Talla, who specializes in bioinformatics, grew up in India where the rich diversity of wildlife inspired him to become an evolutionary biologist. He moved to Sweden to get his PhD, where he studied the genomics of the European wood white butterfly. Although all wood whites appear identical visually, they are actually three different species.

“One of the big questions I’m interested in answering is how does an individual species wind up becoming multiple species?” Talla says. “I want to understand all the processes involved in that evolution.”

He jumped at the chance to join the De Roode Lab. “Monarchs have always been at the top of my list of butterflies I wanted to study because of their incredible migrations,” Talla says. “They are a fascinating species.”

Last November, he joined de Roode on a lab field trip to the eastern monarch overwintering site, inside and adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in central Mexico. Tens to hundreds of millions of monarchs blanket the trees and landscape through the winter. “It’s a mind-blowing sight,” Talla says. “It makes you wonder how they all know how to get there.”

Previous tracking and observational studies had shown that at least some western monarchs fly south to Mexico instead of west to California. The full-genome analysis suggests that more than just a few of the western monarchs may be making the trip to Mexico where they mix with the eastern monarchs. And when the butterflies depart Mexico, some may fly west instead of east.

“Evidence from multiple directions is coming together to support the same view,” de Roode says.

The findings may help in the conservation of monarchs. Due to a combination of habitat loss, climate change and lack of nectaring flowers, numbers of both eastern and western monarchs have declined in recent decades, with the western ones showing the most precipitous drop. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering whether the butterflies need special protections.

“If environmental factors are all that drives the differences between the eastern and western monarchs, it’s possible that we could help the western population by transplanting some of the eastern ones to the west,” de Roode says.

The De Roode lab now plans to investigate what exactly in the environments of the butterflies triggers different expressions of their genes.

The work was funded by Emory University, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Saving rare British butterflies, how?


This June 2014 video from Britain says about itself:

Duke of Burgundy butterfly

Duke of Burgundy is found mainly in central southern England. Patrick Barkham gives an introduction to this beautiful species.

From the University of York in England:

Agricultural conservation schemes not enough to protect Britain’s rarest butterflies

June 23, 2020

Conservation management around the margins of agriculture fail to protect butterfly species at greatest risk from the intensification of farming, a new study says.

The research, from the University of York, says the subsidised schemes are likely to help common, more mobile grassland species like the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus) or the Meadow brown (Maniola jurtina) but not rarer species like the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) or the Dingy skipper (Erynnis tages).

Agri-environment schemes financially reward farmers managing land in ways which aim to reduce the environmental impacts of agriculture. Common options include setting aside small areas of land out of production, including leaving grassland strips at the edges of agricultural fields.

The study examined whether these strips helped support insects including grassland butterfly populations. It used ecological models to look at whether the schemes improved butterfly survival locally and also if set aside land helped species expand their range and move across landscapes. This expansion is important so that species can move in response to climate change.

Katie Threadgill, PhD student from the Department of Biology said: “These kind of set aside schemes help mobile, common butterfly species move across landscapes but they do not help all species.

“The greatest benefits were seen in species which were either highly mobile or which live in high densities. High density species which could travel further were already successful expanders regardless of set-asides although expansion rates were still improved when set-asides were added. Overall, set-aside strips did increase rates of range expansion across landscapes by up to 100% for some species but they did not boost long term butterfly survival locally.

Prof Jane Hill, who co-supervised the project added: “Small-scale set-asides have the potential to improve connectivity, which will help some species move to cope with climate change, and connect up habitat patches for others.”

The study concluded that set-asides are unlikely to benefit low dispersal, low density species which are probably at greatest risk from agricultural intensification.

Katie Threadgill added: “Our results suggest that small set-aside strips alone are not an appropriate solution for preventing extinctions in the long term, but can provide other benefits”

Beautiful butterflies, lecture


This 23 June 2020 video from the Natural History Museum in London, England:

Beautiful Butterflies | Live Talk with NHM Scientist

Butterflies appear in an astonishing variety of colourful and intricate patterns. Join Museum scientist Dr Blanca Huertas as she shares her experience studying these beautiful creatures, discovering new species in the field and in the Museum’s incredible butterfly collections.

Butterfly, hummingbirds at Texas, USA feeders


This video from the USA says about itself:

Butterfly Visits West Texas Feeders Alongside Hummingbirds – June 17, 2020

Enjoy watching a cloudless sulphur butterfly sip nectar from the West Texas hummingbird feeders as hummers hover from port to port.