Some moths behave like butterflies to mate

April 28, 2016

A new study led by ICTA-UAB (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona) researcher Víctor Sarto and colleagues from the Institute of Advanced Chemistry of Catalonia (CSIC-IQAC) has described for the first time in two centuries of knowledge a case of evolutionary convergence in the order of butterflies (Lepidoptera), certainly representing an evolutionary breakthrough to what has been known about their sexual communication. The research has discovered important behavior and physiological changes in the mating process of the moth Paysandisia archon (Castniidae). This neotropical moth that reached Europe in 2001 from Argentina (also inhabiting Uruguay and Brasil) breaks the known sexual rules by behaving like a diurnal butterfly.

The moth's behavior was already described as "strange" by scientists when this new species reached Europe by sea, hiding within infested palms in big ship cargoes. For the next 15 years it spread eastward along the Mediterranean basin to other countries and reached Bulgaria, Greece and Cypress, causing considerable havoc among palm trees.

Researchers noticed there was something very special concerning this moth. Strangely, the adults (males and females) behaved quite differently to other moths, so much that they acted more like butterflies than moths. This therefore prompted further research into the 'alien' moth.

Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) is one of the most diverse insect groups with currently about 160,000 described species. Within this vast group of insects and until 2012, only two basic partner-finding strategies pertaining to 'butterflies' and 'moths' were known. In short, in the case of butterflies (which are primarily diurnal) males use their vision to detect conspecific females at some distance and pursue them. Female butterflies, in turn, have no sex pheromone glands in their ovipositors and therefore do not release any long-range pheromone to attract males.

In contrast, in the case of moths (mostly nocturnal), males use their olfactory system to detect females at some distance because the latter release long-range pheromones from their pheromone glands. Once together and in close courtship interactions, males (butterflies and moths), and in some cases also females, release close range pheromones or 'scents' that facilitate or hinder the last courtship steps leading to copulation.

The butterflies simply use vision to find mates in their sunlit environment with no need to produce long-range sex pheromones. The moths, in turn, maintain the so-called "female calling plus male seduction" strategy, which implies the production of long-range sex pheromones.

In two recent papers published in 2012 and 2016, ICTA-UAB researcher Víctor Sarto demonstrates that this alien moth, Paysandisia archon, breaks the known rules by behaving like a butterfly.

Among their abnormal behaviour, it is highlighted that males are territorial, use only vision for partner-finding, females do not release pheromones to attract males and have even lost their pheromone glands (which are normally located in the ovipositor) to the extent that they resemble female butterflies. "All these attributes are new and have no parallel in the world of moths, certainly representing an evolutionary breakthrough to what has been known about sexual communication in Lepidoptera" says Víctor Sarto who states that this evolutionary convergence has taken place since day-flying moths have been subject to analogous evolutionary pressures such as those of butterflies.

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona

Related Butterflies Articles from Brightsurf:

Two centuries of Monarch butterflies show evolution of wing length
North America's beloved Monarch butterflies are known for their annual, multi-generation migrations in which individual insects can fly for thousands of miles.

Vagabonding female butterflies weigh in on reproductive strategies
A new study by researchers from the National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS), Bengaluru, published today in the Royal Society's journal Biology Letters, shows that dispersals, when undertaken by butterflies in search of unpredictable resources, selectively burden the egg-carrying females on their long flights.

Migration and dispersal of butterflies have contrasting effect on flight morphology
Migration and dispersal are vastly different activities with very different benefits and risks.

Scientists unravel the evolution and relationships for all European butterflies in a first
For the first time, a complete time-calibrated phylogeny for a large group of invertebrates is published for an entire continent.

Human handling stresses young monarch butterflies
People handle monarch butterflies. A lot. Every year thousands of monarch butterflies are caught, tagged and released during their fall migration by citizen scientists helping to track their movements.

What do soap bubbles and butterflies have in common?
A unique butterfly breeding experiment gave UC Berkeley researchers an opportunity to study the physical and genetic changes underlying the evolution of structural color, responsible for butterflies' iridescent purples, blues and greens.

Bacteria get free lunch with butterflies and dragonflies
Recent work from Deepa Agashe's group at NCBS has found that unlike other insects, neither butterflies nor dragonflies seem to have evolved strong mutualisms with their bacterial guests.

How some butterflies developed the ability to change their eyespot size
New insight on how a butterfly species developed the ability to adjust its wing eyespot size in response to temperature has been published today in eLife.

Butterflies can acquire new scent preferences and pass these on to their offspring
Two studies from the National University of Singapore demonstrate that insects can learn from their previous experiences and adjust their future behaviour for survival and reproduction.

Beating the heat in the living wings of butterflies
Columbia engineers and Harvard biologists discover that butterflies have specialized behaviors and wing scales to protect the living parts of their wings.

Read More: Butterflies News and Butterflies Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to