Members of at least one species choose mates and egg sites based on wherethey were born, research reveals

Birthplace exerts a lifelong influence on butterflies as well as humans, newresearch reveals.

In a paper published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B:Biological Sciences , Macquarie University ARC Future Fellow AssociateProfessor Darrell Kemp reveals that the American passionfruit butterfly,Heliconius charithonia , selects its mate and egg-laying site based on thespecies of plant that hosted its own egg.

The finding constitutes the first evidence that conditions in very early lifefor butterflies determine adult behaviour – something many researcherspreviously thought impossible.

“There was considerable doubt about this,” says Professor Kemp. “How canconditioning that occurs in a developing caterpillar survive the completeneural rearrangement that happens once it pupates?

“This research however goes a long way to demonstrating that it does.”

H. charithonia
butterflies feed and lay eggs on more than 20 species ofplants, all of which belong to a single genus, Passiflora.

To establish his findings, Dr Kemp collected 38 wild female butterflies from abreeding colony in Florida. These insects were breeding exclusively on apassionfruit species known as Passiflora incarnarta.

Eggs laid by the cohort were then randomly assigned either to P.incarnarta plants, or to a related species, P. suberosa.

After the caterpillars developed and pupated into butterflies, the adults werereleased into a large rainforest enclosure. Here, their reproductive behaviourwas found to carry intriguing imprints of their early-life hostplantexperience.

Females raised in P. suberosa tended to mate with males which had grown upon the same species, and then tended to lay eggs on it, as well. This was thecase even though P. incarnarta generation members were on the whole largerand developed more rapidly.

“Males as well as females were influenced by their birthplaces, which ininsects is really unusual,” says Dr Kemp.

“It’s possible that this sort of preferential behaviour could influence thedevelopment of distinct and isolated populations – and perhaps eventually newspecies.”

The paper is available here:

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