A new study of the colorful "eyespots" on the wings of some butterfly species is helping to address fundamental questions about evolution that are conceptually similar to the quandary Aristotle wrestled with about 330 B.C. – "which came first, the chicken or the egg?"
After consideration, Aristotle decided that both the egg and the chicken had always existed. That was not the right answer. The new Oregon State University research is providing a little more detail.
The eyespots on this squinting bush brown butterfly are helping researchers answer questions about fundamental evolution.
Credit: Photo by William Piel
The study, published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, actually attempts to explain the existence of what scientists call "serial homologues," or patterns in nature that are repetitive, serve a function and are so important they are often retained through millions of years and across vast numbers of species.
Repeated vertebra that form a spinal column, rows of teeth, and groups of eyespots on butterfly wings are all examples of serial homologues. Researchers have tracked the similarities and changes of these serial features through much time and many species, but it's remained a question about how they originally evolved.
Put another way, it's easier to see how one breed of chicken evolved into a different breed of chicken, rather than where chickens – or their eggs - came from to begin with.
Butterfly wings are helping to answer that question. These eyespots, common to the butterfly family Nymphalidae, now serve many butterflies in dual roles of both predator avoidance and mate identification. One theory of their origin is that they evolved from simpler, single spots; another theory is that they evolved from a "band" of color which later separated into spots.
"What we basically conclude is that neither of the existing theories about butterfly eyespots is correct," said Jeffrey Oliver, a postdoctoral scholar in the Department of Integrative Biology of the OSU College of Science. "The evidence suggests that a few eyespots evolved as a group at about the same time, but behaved somewhat as individual entities."
Having appeared as a result of some genetic mutation, however, the eyespots then had the capability to move, acquire a function that had evolutionary value, and because of that value were retained by future generations of butterflies. And at all times, they retained the biological capacity for positional awareness – the eyespots formed in the same place until a new mutation came along.
"At first, it appears the eyespots helped this group of butterflies with one of the most basic aspects of survival value, which is avoiding predators," Oliver said.
On the side of the wing that predators saw when the wings were closed, the eyespots could have served as camouflage from a distance, and up close almost a "bulls-eye" for a predator to see and attack. But this directed the attack toward the tips of less-important wings, and not the more vulnerable head or body of the insect.
But just as important, Oliver said, the study indicates how through continued mutation these eyespots moved to a completely different place – the other side of the wing. There, they performed a completely different function – helping the butterfly to attract and be identified by optimal mates.
"If you take this same concept and apply it to other important features like vertebra and a spinal column, it suggests that some small number of bones would form through mutation, and eventually move, join and be perpetuated as they acquired a function with survival value," Oliver said.
"There would be a biological position in which they were supposed to form, and that would be retained," he said. "And over time, the vertebra might expand in number, and acquire other functions that had nothing to do with their original function, but which still had value."
The evolution of life has never been simple, as Aristotle and the other early philosophers found out. But one bone or butterfly eyespot at a time, the pieces continue to come together.
Editor's Note: Digital images of butterflies are available to illustrate this story.
Squinting bush brown, showing "eyespots": http://bit.ly/1jYtyKz
Painted lady: http://bit.ly/1hvwqJp
Jeffrey Oliver | Eurek Alert!
Chains of nanogold – forged with atomic precision
23.09.2016 | Suomen Akatemia (Academy of Finland)
Self-assembled nanostructures hit their target
23.09.2016 | King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP has been developing various applications for OLED microdisplays based on organic semiconductors. By integrating the capabilities of an image sensor directly into the microdisplay, eye movements can be recorded by the smart glasses and utilized for guidance and control functions, as one example. The new design will be debuted at Augmented World Expo Europe (AWE) in Berlin at Booth B25, October 18th – 19th.
“Augmented-reality” and “wearables” have become terms we encounter almost daily. Both can make daily life a little simpler and provide valuable assistance for...
With the help of artificial intelligence, chemists from the University of Basel in Switzerland have computed the characteristics of about two million crystals made up of four chemical elements. The researchers were able to identify 90 previously unknown thermodynamically stable crystals that can be regarded as new materials. They report on their findings in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters.
Elpasolite is a glassy, transparent, shiny and soft mineral with a cubic crystal structure. First discovered in El Paso County (Colorado, USA), it can also be...
For the first time, Fraunhofer IKTS shows additively manufactured hardmetal tools at WorldPM 2016 in Hamburg. Mechanical, chemical as well as a high heat resistance and extreme hardness are required from tools that are used in mechanical and automotive engineering or in plastics and building materials industry. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Dresden managed the production of complex hardmetal tools via 3D printing in a quality that are in no way inferior to conventionally produced high-performance tools.
Fraunhofer IKTS counts decades of proven expertise in the development of hardmetals. To date, reliable cutting, drilling, pressing and stamping tools made of...
At AKL’16, the International Laser Technology Congress held in May this year, interest in the topic of process control was greater than expected. Appropriately, the event was also used to launch the Industry Working Group for Process Control in Laser Material Processing. The group provides a forum for representatives from industry and research to initiate pre-competitive projects and discuss issues such as standards, potential cost savings and feasibility.
In the age of industry 4.0, laser technology is firmly established within manufacturing. A wide variety of laser techniques – from USP ablation and additive...
Every three years, the plastics industry gathers at K, the international trade fair for plastics and rubber in Düsseldorf. The Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will also be attending again and presenting many innovative technologies, such as for joining plastics and metals using ultrashort pulse lasers. From October 19 to 26, you can find the Fraunhofer ILT at the joint Fraunhofer booth SC01 in Hall 7.
K is the world’s largest trade fair for the plastics and rubber industry. As in previous years, the organizers are expecting 3,000 exhibitors and more than...
23.09.2016 | Event News
20.09.2016 | Event News
16.09.2016 | Event News
26.09.2016 | Health and Medicine
26.09.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
23.09.2016 | Life Sciences