DNA links male, female butterfly thought to be distinct species

The iridescent blue male sunburst cerulean-satyr, Caeruleuptychia helios, top, was not linked with its female counterpart until DNA bar codes showed they were the same species. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History, photo by Shinichi Nakahara

Researchers recently discovered what was thought to be a distinct species of butterfly is actually the female of a species known to science for more than a century.


An international team of nine butterfly researchers from the U.S., Brazil, the U.K., Peru and Germany used DNA sequence data to associate the female sunburst cerulean-satyr, or Caeruleuptychia helios, an Amazonian brush-footed butterfly, with its male counterpart.

Males and females of this group look dramatically different from each other, a phenomenon known as sexual dimorphism, and the was named and described in 1911 based on the brilliantly iridescent blue . Rarer than the male, the brown female was considered another species and was recently named and placed in a different genus, Magneuptychia keltoumae.

A study correcting the classification error was published today in Insect Systematics and Evolution.

“Our study will serve as the basis for developing a firm understanding of true species diversity of this group and of Neotropical butterflies in general,” said Shinichi Nakahara, the study’s lead author and a research associate at the Florida Museum of Natural History’s McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity at the University of Florida. “These findings are extremely valuable at a time when the biodiversity of the Neotropics is threatened since it will be impossible to recognize and document the region’s unique elements of biodiversity after they are gone.”

As part of the project, DNA bar codes—short, diagnostic gene sequences—were…

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