Genetically Unusual Species of Butterfly Discovered in Russia

Posted by TF Oren
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Image courtesy of Vladimir Lukhtanov via Science Daily
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Two scientists have made a startling discovery about a seemingly ordinary population of butterflies in southern Russia.

In the mid-1990s, entomologist and evolutionary biologist Vladimir Lukhtanov of the Zoological Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences undertook an extensive examination of Russian butterflies. Lukhtanov, along with his students and colleagues, used a combination of old-school and modern research techniques to conduct the study.

Shortly thereafter, in 1997, Alexander Dantchenko, an entomologist and chemist studying butterfly ecology at Moscow State University, took a few samples from several blue butterfly specimens residing in the northern slopes of the Caucasus Mountains. At first, the specimens appeared to be members of a known species, the Azerbaijani blue butterfly (Polyommatus aserbeidschanus). However, examination under a microscope revealed something quite surprising.

Once under the microscope, the scientists noticed something unusual about these blue butterflies: they had 46 chromosomes. Not only was that highly unusual for this particular group of butterflies, but it also happens to be the same number of chromosomes that humans have.

After 20 years of studying the chromosomes of over 100 species of blue butterflies and sequencing the DNA of all related species, the scientists knew they had something genetically unusual on their hands - an entirely new species of butterfly. They named the new butterfly species the South-Russian blue (Polyomattus australorossicus).

From years of research, the scientists have learned that the caterpillars of genetically related species in the group of butterflies they've studied feed on different but similar species of plants. This knowledge is significant because it will allow entomologists to tap into botanic information in order to discover and protect new butterfly species.

Lukhtanov told Science Daily:

"We are proud of our research. It contributes greatly to both the study of biodiversity and understanding the mechanisms of biological evolution." 

The study was published in Comparative Cytogenetics, and you can check it out here.

What do you think of this incredible new find? Let us know in the comments section!

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Genetically Unusual Species of Butterfly Discovered in Russia