Evolution of color and vision of butterflies

Arthropod Struct Dev. 2006 Dec;35(4):307-18. doi: 10.1016/j.asd.2006.08.011.


Butterfly eyes consist of three types of ommatidia, which are more or less randomly arranged in a spatially regular lattice. The corneal nipple array and the tapetum, optical structures that many but not all butterflies share with moths, suggest that moths are ancestral to butterflies, in agreement with molecular phylogeny. A basic set of ultraviolet-, blue- and green-sensitive receptors, encountered among nymphalid butterflies, forms the basis for trichromatic vision. Screening pigments surrounding the light-receiving rhabdoms can modify the spectral sensitivity of the photoreceptors so that the sensitivity peak is in the violet, yellow, red, or even deep-red, specifically in swallowtails (Papilionidae) and whites (Pieridae), thus enhancing color discriminability. The photoreceptor sensitivity spectra are presumably tuned to the wing colors of conspecific butterflies.