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.

Fieldwork in Colombia


We are just back from another short sampling trip in Colombia. This time we were near the town of Bahía Solano, between our previously furthest north sampling location in Colombia and our furthest south location in Panama. Emma’s analysis of the butterflies we collected last time suggests that that is a sharp transition from blue to black wing colour around the border between Colombia and Panama, so getting samples from this region could be key to working out where this transition happens and how sharp it is, as well as finding genes that are associated with the colour.

There are no roads in this area so we did a lot of travelling up and down the coast in a small motor boat. All the logistics were again organised by Carolina and Camilo from the Universidad del Rosario, along with local guides, so we are hugely grateful to them!


European Synchrotron Radiation Facility

At the weekend we visited the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France with Andrew Parnell and other collaborators from Physics and Chemistry. The location was more spectacular than I had imagined, in a valley with towering mountains on either side.  We had 3 days of “beam time” and made full use of the time, keeping measurements running 24hrs a day for those 3 days (Emma bravely volunteered to be on the night shift). We were measuring the butterflies that we collected in Colombia and Panama in January, using small angle x-ray scattering to measure the scale structure variation. This is far out of my field of expertise so being able to work with colleagues in other disciplines is great. This should (once the data is analysed) tell us how the scale structures vary in order to produce the variation in iridescence that we see in the wild. We can then link this up to genetic differences between the butterflies (this is where our expertise comes in) to find out how structural colours can be controlled genetically and developmentally in biological systems.