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Butterfly wing pattern mutants: developmental heterochrony and co-ordinately regulated phenotypes

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Butterfly wings are colored late in development, when pigments are synthesized in specialized wing scale cells in a fixed developmental succession. In this succession, colored pigments are deposited first and the remaining areas are later melanized black or brown. Here we studied the developmental changes underlying two wing pattern mutants, firstly melanic mutants of the swallowtail Papilio glaucus, in which the yellow background is turned black, and secondly a Spotty mutant of the satyrid Bicyclus anynana, which carries two additional eyespots. Despite the very different pattern changes in these two mutants, they are both associated with changes in rates of scale development and correspondingly, the final color pattern. In the melanic swallowtail, background scales originally destined to become yellow (normally developing early and synthesizing papiliochrome) show delayed development, fail to make papiliochrome, and subsequently melanize at the same time as scales in the wild-type black pattern. In the B. anynana eyespot, scale maturation begins with the central white focus, then progresses to the surrounding gold ring and later finishes with melanization of the black center. Mutants showing additional eyespots display accelerated rates of scale development (corresponding to new eyespots) in wing cells not normally occupied by eyespots. Thus by either delaying or accelerating rates of scale development, the final color, or position, of a wing pattern element can be changed. We propose that this heterochrony of scale development is a basic mechanism of color pattern formation on which developmental mutants act to change lepidopteran color patterns.

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Received: 20 April 2000 / Accepted: 19 July 2000

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Koch, P., Lorenz, U., Brakefield, P. et al. Butterfly wing pattern mutants: developmental heterochrony and co-ordinately regulated phenotypes. Dev Gene Evol 210, 536–544 (2000).

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