The complex, geometric colour patterns of many animal bodies have important roles in behaviour and ecology. The generation of certain patterns has been the subject of considerable theoretical exploration, however, very little is known about the actual mechanisms underlying colour pattern formation or evolution. Here we have investigated the generation and evolution of the complex, spotted wing pattern of Drosophila guttifera. We show that wing spots are induced by the Wingless morphogen, which is expressed at many discrete sites that are specified by pre-existing positional information that governs the development of wing structures. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the elaborate spot pattern evolved from simpler schemes by co-option of Wingless expression at new sites. This example of a complex design developing and evolving by the layering of new patterns on pre-patterns is likely to be a general theme in other animals.