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Butterfly species a master of disguise

Supergene allows butterfly to mimic several species

12:44pm, August 19, 2011

The tasty Heliconius numata butterfly evades predators by copying the wing patterns of foul-tasting Melinaea butterflies. H. numata, also known as the passion-vine butterfly, has to get the pattern exactly right or a sharp-eyed bird will spot the fake and gobble it up.

Born mimics, members of the species lock in wing patterns with flipped-around bits of DNA, Richard ffrench-Constant of the University of Exeter in England and colleagues report online August 14 in Nature.

The flipped DNA causes six or more genes — on a section of a chromosome important in sett

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