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, 9 (17), 9827-9840
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Evolution and Losses of Spines in Slug Caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae)

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Evolution and Losses of Spines in Slug Caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Limacodidae)

Yu-Chi Lin et al. Ecol Evol.

Abstract

Larvae of the cosmopolitan family Limacodidae, commonly known as "slug" caterpillars, are well known because of the widespread occurrence of spines with urticating properties, a morpho-chemical adaptive trait that has been demonstrated to protect the larvae from natural enemies. However, while most species are armed with rows of spines ("nettle" caterpillars), slug caterpillars are morphologically diverse with some species lacking spines and thus are nonstinging. It has been demonstrated that the evolution of spines in slug caterpillars may have a single origin and that this trait is possibly derived from nonstinging slug caterpillars, but these conclusions were based on limited sampling of mainly New World taxa; thus, the evolution of spines and other traits within the family remains unresolved. Here, we analyze morphological variation in slug caterpillars within an evolutionary framework to determine character evolution of spines with samples from Asia, Australia, North America, and South America. The phylogeny of the Limacodidae was reconstructed based on a multigene dataset comprising five molecular markers (5.6 Kbp: COI, 28S, 18S, EF-1α, and wingless) representing 45 species from 40 genera and eight outgroups. Based on this phylogeny, we infer that limacodids evolved from a common ancestor in which the larval type possessed spines, and then slug caterpillars without spines evolved independently multiple times in different continents. While larvae with spines are well adapted to avoiding generalist predators, our results imply that larvae without spines may be suited to different ecological niches. Systematic relationships of our dataset indicate six major lineages, several of which have not previously been identified.

Keywords: Zygaenoidea; character evolution; molecular phylogeny; morpho‐chemical defense.

Conflict of interest statement

None declared.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
Different larval types of slug caterpillars in the Limacodidae with respect to the presence of spines: (a–c) first, early, and late instar of Parasa consocia (character state A: spines present after second instar); (d) late instar of Microleon longipalpis (character state A); (e–f) first and late instar larva of Cania heppneri (character state A); (g) spines on the late instar of Cania heppneri; (h) spines on the late instar of Microleon longipalpis; (i) first instar of Demonarosa rufotessellata subrosea (character state B: spines present after second instar but reduced in late instars); (j) second instar of Demonarosa rufotessellata subrosea with spines on the segments (character state B); (k) late instar of Demonarosa rufotessellata subrosea with almost all spines lost (character state B); (l) first instar of Phrixolepia inouei (character state D: spines absent but numerous setae present after second instar); (m) first instar of Caiella pygmy (character state B); (n) early instar of Caiella pygmy with spines (character state B); (o) late instar of Caiella pygmy with almost all spines reduced (character state B); (p) late instar of Phrixolepia inouei with numerous setae (character state D); (q) first instar of Pseudanapaea transvestita (character state B); (r) second instar of Pseudanapaea transvestita with spines (character state B); (s) late instar of Pseudanapaea transvestita with almost all spines reduced (character state B); (t) late instar larva of Nagodopsis shirakiana (character state C: spines absent in all instars); (u) early instar of Ecnomoctena brachyopa with spines (character state B); (v) late instar of Ecnomoctena brachyopa with almost all spines reduced (character state B); (w, x) first and late instar of Altha melanopsis (character state C)
Figure 2
Figure 2
Phylogenetic trees of the Limacodidae based on the combined dataset constructed with: (a) partitioned Bayesian Inference; (b) partitioned Maximum Likelihood using the GTR + Γ+I substitution model. Branch lengths are proportional to inferred nucleotide substitutions, with values above nodes representing posterior probabilities (a) and ML bootstraps (b). Optimal topologies recovered by BI and ML were congruent. Six major lineages were recovered, which are indicated by different colors. Zoogeographic regions are represented in different colors on terminals, as per legend
Figure 3
Figure 3
Phylogenetic tree of the Limacodidae constructed using partitioned Maximum Likelihood, with bootstrap values below branches and posterior probabilities above. Character state reconstruction for spines was carried out using Maximum Likelihood (Mesquite). The proportional likelihoods of the different character states in the ancestral reconstructions are indicated by the area red/yellow/white/blue in each pie diagram (A = red for spines present after second instar; B = yellow for spines present after second instar but reduced in late instars; C = white for spines and setae absent in all instars; D = blue for spines absent but numerous setae present after second instar). Node 1: proportional likelihood of character state A = 0.999. Node 2: proportional likelihood of character state B = 0.987. Node 3: proportional likelihood of character state C = 0.964. Node 4: proportional likelihood of character state D = 0.958. Node 5: proportional likelihood of character state A = 0.999

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