Researchers have found that the same gene mutation causes coloration in both moths and butterflies.
Scientists have finally worked out how dark-colored moths were evolved. They have identified a gene mutation that gave rise to the black form of moths during British industrial revolution which otherwise have light-colored wings. The same gene that caused moths to turn black as a consequence of industrial revolution also produced bright and colorful patterns on tropical butterflies’ wings.
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The increase of dark-colored moths during mid-19th century points to the fact that the changing color of moths was directly linked to industrial pollution at the time. The surprising thing is mutation in cortex gene is responsible for the coloration of not only black peppered moths but also bright tropical butterflies, even though their purposes are totally different from each other.
"What's exciting is that it turns out to be the same gene in both cases. For the moths, the dark coloration developed because they were trying to hide, but the butterflies use bright colors to advertise their toxicity to predators.” Chris Jiggins, Professor of Evolutionary Biology from University of Cambridge said.
A separate study by researchers from University of Liverpool also yielded similar results, confirming that cortex gene plays a critical role in color change and pattern in moths and butterfly variants. These findings potentially fill a fundamental gap in the evolutionary story of both moths and butterflies.
“It’s amazing that the same gene controls such a diversity of different colors and patterns in butterflies and a moth,” said co-author Dr Nicola Nadeau from University of Sheffield. “Our study, together with the findings from the University of Liverpool, shows that the cortex gene is important for color and pattern evolution in this whole group of insects.”
British moths were predominantly pale-colored until the 19th century and they used to camouflage themselves against lichen-covered tree trunks for hiding themselves from birds. However, during industrial revolution dark form replaced the lighter form by blending in with the black barks that changed their color due to soot. A corresponding change was seen in the in peppered moths which turned black as well, helping them to avoid predators.
Both butterflies and moths create the order of insects known as Lepidoptera and almost all have different colors and patterns which they use for varied purposes ranging from attracting mates, giving off warnings and as a tool to camouflage themselves.
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The insect order Lepidoptera is extremely diverse and it can provide more clues about the genetic switches that control diversification in various species.