Pterin pigment granules are responsible for both broadband light scattering and wavelength selective absorption in the wing scales of pierid butterflies

Nathan I. Morehouse, Peter Vukusic, Ron Rutowski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

75 Scopus citations

Abstract

A small but growing literature indicates that many animal colours are produced by combinations of structural and pigmentary mechanisms. We investigated one such complex colour phenotype: the highly chromatic wing colours of pierid butterflies including oranges, yellows and patterns which appear white to the human eye, but strongly absorb the ultraviolet (UV) wavelengths visible to butterflies. Pierids produce these bright colours using wing scales that contain collections of minute granules. However, to date, no work has directly characterized the molecular composition or optical properties of these granules. We present results that indicate these granules contain pterin pigments. We also find that pterin granules increase light reflection from single wing scales, such that wing scales containing denser granule arrays reflect more light than those with less dense granule collections. As male wing scales contain more pterin granules than those of females, the sexual dichromatism found in many pierid species can be explained by differences in wing scale pterin deposition. Additionally, the colour pattern elements produced by these pterins are known to be important during mating interactions in a number of pierid species. Therefore, we discuss the potential relevance of our results within the framework of sexual selection and colour signal evolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)359-366
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume274
Issue number1608
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 7 2007

Keywords

  • Animal coloration
  • Nano-optics
  • Pierid butterflies
  • Pterin pigments
  • Structural colour
  • Trait evolution

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)

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