Scientists said on Wednesday they have created a distinctive red and yellow butterfly in the laboratory by interbreeding two different species in a way similar to what they believe has occurred in nature.
The laboratory hybrid is nearly identical to a wild species of butterfly in Colombia known as Heliconius heurippa.
“We re-created the evolutionary steps that may have given rise to Heliconius heurippa, a hybrid butterfly species, in the lab,” said Jesus Mavarez, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama.
Animal hybrids are thought to be very rare because they are less able to survive. The mule, for example–a hybrid between a donkey and a horse–is sterile so it is an evolutionary dead end. But some hybrids survive and establish new species.
The achievement by Mavarez and researchers in Colombia and Britain, which is reported in the journal Nature, suggests animal hybrids could be more common than previously thought.
The scientists began their experiments after noticing that Heliconius heurippa‘s distinct wing pattern was similar to those of two other species of butterfly.
After interbreeding the two types, they found the laboratory hybrid was very similar to the wild species.
The scientists said the color pattern on the wing of Heliconius heurippa, which is a mating cue, makes it unattractive to members of their parents’ species but attractive to each other.
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