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Male-killing bugs hold key to butterflies’ curious colour changes


It is a spectacular butterfly breed with an intriguing back story – now scientists have revealed how male-killing bacteria are helping to create a dazzling hybrid of the African monarch.

Researchers have shed new light on the complex reproductive process which dictates that only female offspring of the Danaus chrysippus survive – all in close proximity to Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

Previous research had shown that all female butterflies in this region are infected with a bacteria, called Spiroplasma, and after the females mate with immigrant males from other subspecies, the bacteria kills all their sons.

It was not clear, however, how this influenced the female butterflies’ colour patterns. The international study, led by the University of Edinburgh, analysed the entire DNA of the bacteria and the female butterflies’ chromosomes. MORE

Header image: an African monarch butterfly. Credit: Claude Martin.

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