Genomes of skipper butterflies reveal extensive convergence of wing patterns

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2019 Mar 26;116(13):6232-6237. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1821304116. Epub 2019 Mar 15.


For centuries, biologists have used phenotypes to infer evolution. For decades, a handful of gene markers have given us a glimpse of the genotype to combine with phenotypic traits. Today, we can sequence entire genomes from hundreds of species and gain yet closer scrutiny. To illustrate the power of genomics, we have chosen skipper butterflies (Hesperiidae). The genomes of 250 representative species of skippers reveal rampant inconsistencies between their current classification and a genome-based phylogeny. We use a dated genomic tree to define tribes (six new) and subtribes (six new), to overhaul genera (nine new) and subgenera (three new), and to display convergence in wing patterns that fooled researchers for decades. We find that many skippers with similar appearance are distantly related, and several skippers with distinct morphology are close relatives. These conclusions are strongly supported by different genomic regions and are consistent with some morphological traits. Our work is a forerunner to genomic biology shaping biodiversity research.

Keywords: Lepidoptera; genomics; higher classification; mimicry; taxonomy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biological Mimicry
  • Butterflies / classification*
  • Butterflies / genetics*
  • Computational Biology / methods
  • Genome, Insect*
  • Genomics
  • Genotype*
  • Lepidoptera / classification
  • Lepidoptera / genetics
  • Multigene Family
  • Phenotype
  • Phylogeny*
  • Species Specificity
  • Wings, Animal / anatomy & histology*