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Several different swallowtail butterfly variations showing mimicry and polymorphism, or different forms of the same species. In the center, a female Papilio polytes that mimics another species, which is toxic to predators. | Matt Wood, University of Chicago
Animals

Some Butterflies Have Been Fooling Others for 2 Million Years

Research on butterfly mimicry sheds light on how the evolution of beneficial traits can come with unexpected — and undesired — consequences.

Common rose swallowtail butterfly | Wikimedia Commons
Several different swallowtail butterfly variations showing mimicry and polymorphism, or different forms of the same species. Row 1: A female and male Papilio protenor, the species that is closely related to Papilo polytes, the focal of the new study. In P. protenor, males and female look the same and they do not mimic. Row 2: Papilio ambrax, a species where males and females look different and the female is a mimic. In this species, there is no female polymorphism. The new study shows that its evolutionary ancestor was polymorphic, but females lost that trait and only display the mimetic form. Row 3: Polymorphic Papilio polytes, (L-R) A mimetic female form (one of 3 mimetic forms in this species), a non-mimetic female, and the male. Row 4: A distantly related swallowtail, Pachliopta aristolochiae. This is the toxic species that the species in the new study mimic. | Matt Wood, University of Chicago
Common Mormon female butterfly | Jeevan Jose, Wikimedia Commons