Elements of butterfly wing patterns.
The color patterns on the wings of butterflies are unique among animal color patterns in that the elements that make up the overall pattern are individuated. Unlike the spots and stripes of vertebrate color patterns, the elements of butterfly wing patterns have identities that can be traced from species to species, and typically across genera and families. Because of this identity it is possible to recognize homologies among pattern elements and to study their evolution and diversification. Individuated pattern elements evolved from non-individuated precursors by compartmentalization of the wing into areas that became developmentally autonomous with respect to color pattern formation. Developmental compartmentalization led to the evolution of serially repeated elements and the emergence of serial homology. In these compartments, serial homologues were able to acquire site-specific developmental regulation and this, in turn, allowed them to diverge morphologically. Compartmentalization of the wing also reduced the developmental correlation among pattern elements. The release from this developmental constraint, we believe, enabled the great evolutionary radiation of butterfly wing patterns. During pattern evolution, the same set of individual pattern elements is arranged in novel ways to produce species-specific patterns, including such adaptations as mimicry and camouflage.
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