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Wing venation and Distal-less expression in Heliconius butterfly wing pattern development


Here we show that major color pattern elements of Heliconius butterfly wings develop independently of wing venation. We recovered a hybrid Heliconius displaying a mutant phenotype with a severe vein deficiency. Although this butterfly lacked most of its wing veins, the large, melanic banding patterns typical of the genus were conserved across the entire wing. The only obvious correlation between vein reduction and pigment patterns was a loss of vein-associated melanin stripes near the distal margin of the wings. We examined the expression of the eyespot-associated transcription factor Distal-less in a banded and a spotted species of Heliconius and found no obvious relationship between protein expression and the band or spot patterns typical of the genus. Together, our results suggest that the melanic bands and spots in Heliconius are unlikely to be derived from an eyespot determination system. We propose that major elements of Heliconius wing pattern formation are based primarily on a complex, whole-wing proximodistal axis system.

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We thank H.F. Nijhout, J. Mallet, and an anonymous reviewer for comments on the manuscript, and S.B. Carroll for sharing the Distal-less antibody. This work was funded by US National Science Foundation grants DEB 0209441, IBN 0344705, and BSR 8315399.

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Correspondence to Robert D. Reed.

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Edited by D. Tautz

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Reed, R.D., Gilbert, L.E. Wing venation and Distal-less expression in Heliconius butterfly wing pattern development. Dev Genes Evol 214, 628–634 (2004).

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  • Eyespot
  • Evolution
  • Nymphalid ground plan
  • Mimicry
  • Development