Author Archives: bo1nn

Structural colour

Here is a video I made to demonstrate structural colour. The blue colour on these butterflies’ wings is produced when light passes through nano-metre scale structures and the interfaces between these and the surrounding air. When ethanol is dropped onto the wings these air spaces are filled in and so the colour changes. The video is at 2x actual speed, so you can see that the colour comes back when the ethanol evaporates.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships

There is currently an open call for Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships (Deadline 14th September 2017). Please get in touch with Nicola if you are interested in applying for one of these to come and join the group. Eligible candidates are post-doctoral researchers wanting to move to the UK from another country (either inside or outside Europe). I would be particularly interested in post-docs with experience in evolutionary developmental biology who are interested in working on structural colour, but feel free to get in touch if you have any interests that you feel overlap with mine.

NERC funded PhD position

I am currently advertising for a PhD student with interests in evolution and behaviour to work on a project investigating the role of iridescent structural colour in predator avoidance and mate choice in Heliconius butterflies, co-supervised by Mike Speed, Institute of Integrative Biology, Liverpool.


The bright wing colours of these butterflies act as warnings to predators and mimicry between species facilitates predator learning and reduces attack rates. Wing colours are also used for mate choice and attraction. The main colours used are red, yellow and black, due to pigments, but a small number of species also exhibit iridescent blue/green, due to sub-micron scale structures. The role of these colours in deterring predators and attracting mates is less well understood. The project can be tailored to the interests of the student but would likely involve experiments using captive butterfly populations in South/Central America and the UK, and could involve experiments with wild or captive avian predators or theoretical modelling. The project would also tie in with ongoing work on the genetic basis of these traits.

If successful, the student would be fully funded for a minimum of 3.5 years, studentships cover: (i) a tax-free stipend at the standard Research Council rate (at least £14,296 per annum for 2017-2018), (ii) research costs, and (iii) tuition fees at the UK/EU rate. Studentship(s) are available to UK and EU students who meet the UK residency requirements. Students from EU countries who do not meet residency requirements may still be eligible for a fees-only award.

This PhD project is part of the NERC funded Doctoral Training Partnership “ACCE” (Adapting to the Challenges of a Changing Environment). This is a partnership between the Universities of Sheffield, Liverpool, York and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. Further information and details of how to apply are here. The closing date is the 9th of January 2017. Interested candidates are also welcome to contact me for further information.

Selection process: Shortlisting will take place as soon as possible after the closing date and may involve an informal interview. The shortlisted applicant will be notified promptly and invited for a formal interview to take place at the University of Sheffield the w/c 13th February 2017.

Heliconius meeting


Thanks to everyone who came to the Heliconius meeting! There were 53 participants in the end (including 3 from Montpellier, who didn’t make it in person because of the strikes, but had a virtual presence through the wonders of teleconferencing). This included representatives from 16 different research organisations spanning 7 countries. It was great to hear about all the work that is going on, across quite a diversity of topics. Download the programme (without last-minute changes) and abstracts  if you missed the talks or want to refresh your memory.

Congratulations to the student talk prize winners:

1st Bruna Cama (University of York) – Genetic analysis of wing pattern and pheromone composition in two sister species of Heliconius butterflies

2nd Paul Jay (CNRS, Montpellier) – Supergene evolution favoured by the introgression of an inversion in Heliconius

The Sheffield weather didn’t do us any favours, but that didn’t stop us sitting out in the beer garden of the Fat Cat on the last night.


Nadeau et al. in Nature

In a study in tomorrow’s Nature we identify the cell cycle gene cortex as controlling major aspects of colour pattern variation in 3 species of Heliconius. A parallel paper out in the same issue identifies the same gene as controlling colour differences in the peppered moth.

While the butterflies use their patterns to deter predators by acting as warnings, the moths use them to camouflage themselves against their background.


The cortex gene is a rapidly evolving member of a conserved family of cell cycle regulators (the fizzy family). We think it is likely controlling the colour of scales on the wing through control of their developmental rate.

These findings are also featured in the Nature Podcast

Free access to the full text here.