Nature 441, 868-871 (15 June 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04738; Received 8 November 2005; Accepted 22 March 2006


Speciation by hybridization in Heliconius butterflies

Jesús Mavárez1,4, Camilo A. Salazar2,4, Eldredge Bermingham1, Christian Salcedo2, Chris D. Jiggins3 & Mauricio Linares2

  1. Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado postal 0843-03092, Panamá, República de Panamá
  2. Instituto de Genética, Universidad de los Andes, Carrera 1E No 18ª–10, PO Box 4976, Santafé de Bogotá D.C., Colombia
  3. Institute of Evolutionary Biology, School of Biological Sciences, University of Edinburgh, West Mains Road, Edinburgh EH9 3JT, UK
  4. *These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to: Jesús Mavárez1,4Mauricio Linares2 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to M.L. (Email: or J.M. (Email: The sequences have been deposited in GenBank under accession numbers DQ445384–DQ445414 (Distal-less) and DQ445416–DQ445457 (Invected).


Speciation is generally regarded to result from the splitting of a single lineage. An alternative is hybrid speciation, considered to be extremely rare, in which two distinct lineages contribute genes to a daughter species. Here we show that a hybrid trait in an animal species can directly cause reproductive isolation. The butterfly species Heliconius heurippa is known to have an intermediate morphology and a hybrid genome1, and we have recreated its intermediate wing colour and pattern through laboratory crosses between H. melpomene, H. cydno and their F1 hybrids. We then used mate preference experiments to show that the phenotype of H. heurippa reproductively isolates it from both parental species. There is strong assortative mating between all three species, and in H. heurippa the wing pattern and colour elements derived from H. melpomene and H. cydno are both critical for mate recognition by males.



Scientists Create Butterfly Hybrid

Friday, June 16, 2006 
By Ker Than


Researchers have created a hybrid butterfly whose genes and color are blends of two other species.

New species typically arise from the branching of one species into two, but in the June 15 issue of the journal Nature, scientists report the first clear evidence that evolution in animals can work the other way around, too.

Hybridization is well known among plants, but scientists had thought it was rare in animals.

Wild implications

The hybrid lab butterfly was created by interbreeding two butterflies with different colored wing markings.

Heliconius cydno has black wings with white and yellow markings, while H. melpomene has black wings with red, yellow and orange markings. The lab hybrid had black wings with red and yellow markings.

H. cydno and H. melpomene can be found near each other in the wilds of Mexico and northern South America.

Where the habitats of these two butterflies overlap, a third butterfly, called H. heurippa, is found. Interestingly, the color markings on the wing of H. heurippa are nearly identical to those of the lab-made F1 hybrid.

The study supports a long-held suspicion among biologists that H. heurippa is a wild hybrid. The researchers believe it was created naturally from the interbreeding of the same two butterfly species used to create the lab hybrid.

"What we have done is to recreate the first steps in the evolution of H. heurippa," said study team member Jesus Mavarez from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama.

Take the mule, for example

The handful of known hybrid animals have lower "fitness" than their parents. In biology, fitness is a measure of an organism's ability to reproduce and thrive.

Related Stories

For example, mules, which are the offspring of donkeys and horses, are usually sterile.

Indeed, in the current experiment, females in the first generation of hybrids were sterile (males were not).

It's thought that in the wild, virile H. heurippa males bred with females of one of the parent species until eventually, non-sterile female hybrids were born. This process is called "backcrossing."

Another obstacle scientists have thought would be difficult for hybrid species to overcome: Because hybrid animal offspring inhabit the same environments as their parent species, they wouldn't be reproductively isolated enough to form a distinct species.

Scientists reported genetic evidence last year, for example, that a naturally occurring fruit fly was a hybrid, but that species preferred a different type of fruit than both its parent species. This helped to keep the species separate.

But in the new study, researchers found that H. heurippa butterflies show a strong mating preference to members of their own species rather than with their parent species.

"If you cover the red or the yellow stripe of a bi-colored hybrid female, hybrid males no longer find her the least bit attractive," Mavarez explained.

In the wild, this sexual preference would be just as effective as physical reproductive isolation.

Read more:,2933,199680,00.html#ixzz1S3wr7ZTN