Fera Magazine: Unwinding The Wild

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trek of the monarch

painting with genetics

the looking glass

3,000 mile journey to the southern warmth

scientists mutate their way to a perfect wing

exploring the glasswing and its mystifying color


lepidoptera issue

spring 2020


volume 10



what’s inside

unwinding the issue

editor’s letter




Scaled Wings Unwound The breakdown and what you need to know about butterflies and moths.



Cycle of Life The four stages of Lepidoptera and what they mean for life growth.

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The Tale of Two Moths How moths changed the beliefs of a certain family facing loss.

The Lepidoptera Issue Why the editor chose to unwind this topic for the Spring Issue.



The Blueprint An in-depth look at Lepidoptera wing structure and body anatomy.


On the Lookout Where to find the most beautiful butterflies and how to spot them.

in season



Frequent Summer Flyers Flying habits and weather patterns that affect Lepidoptera locale.



From East to West Continent specific butterfly and moth species and their homes.



More Than a Natural Beauty The importance of Lepidoptera and their contribution to our world.

table of contents

through the looking glass A look at what makes the Glasswing Butterfly so special: its beautiful translucent wings.


Article by Allen Arthur

painting with genetics

How scientists are repatterning and recoloring the genetic makeup of Lepidoptera wings. Article by Nicholas Wade


unexpected transformation Why the caterpillars you see, and the butterflies they turn into, don’t always make visual sense.


Article by Dr. Allison Chambers

the monarch migration The 3,000 mile journey of the Monarch, why they make the trip, and why it’s important to their lives. Article by Robert Hathaw


born with camouflage All about the species of butterflies and moths meant to hide and blend in with the world around them.


Article by John Markson

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Fera loves to hear from its readers. Feel free to write in to the magazine. Any ideas, suggestions, questions, or issue topics that you think may be great subjects for our issues will always be greatly appreciated by the entire staff at our magazine.


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editor’s letter

lepidoptera I

the issue

n every issue of Fera, we aspire to help our readers uncover and explore sides of nature that they may have never been exposed. Whether you pick up a copy because you love the magazine’s nature-obsessed content as a whole, or because you are passionate about a particular issue, I hope anything and everything about our magazine’s pages are encouraging the nature in our world to inspire your actions in daily life.

This issue has a special place in my heart, even more so than our many other exciting issues. Ever since I was young, I remember always being fascinated with butterflies. They’ve always been so graceful and elegant, and have made me so curious about their lives, their flight, and their existence as one of the most beautiful insects in the world. Admittedly, when I was younger I did not think that moths shared the same stunning quality as butterflies. However, as I’ve grown, my thoughts on moths have grown and I have found that moths are equally as beautiful as butterflies in their very own unique way. In this Lepidoptera issue, I hope that readers who are already familiar with this topic will be enriched by its content, and readers who may have no knowledge of butterflies and moths at all, will gain a new found love for this species. Lepidoptera truly are as delightfully fascinating as they are beautiful.

Jessica Paley Editor-in-Chief

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The earliest known Lepidoptera fossils found are about 190 million years old.

Diachrysia balluca of the Subfamily Plusiinae with a wing span of 5cm.

scaled wings



he insect order Lepidoptera comprises the butterflies, moths, and skippers. Lepidoptera, means “scale winged” in Greek because of the tiny scales covering their wings and body. Like all insects, Lepidoptera have a hard outer covering called an exoskeleton which is divided into sections with joints so the animal can move. Also like other insects, butterflies and moths have six legs, a head, a thorax, and an abdomen. They undergo complete metamorphosis: eggs are laid, from which larvae hatch, and a pupal stage follows, during which the final adult form of moth or butterfly takes shape. They are found on

Article by Greg Pohl

every continent in the world except Antarctica, and in nearly every environment, where they serve an important role in many different food chains and ecosystems. Lepidoptera are renowned for their sense of smell. The females of most species release complex chemical compounds called pheromones which can be detected by males from great distances. The males locate females by following their scent, often producing their own pheromones, which are used at close range during courtship. Some moths also have a well-developed sense of hearing, that evolved as a method to detect the sonar of bats, important predators of moths.

The Lepidoptera form an essential part of terrestrial ecosystems. As herbivores, they help to regulate plant growth and when their population levels are high they can act as agents of plant succession. Many adult lepidopterans are important pollinators. Larvae and adults are major food sources for many other animals, including songbirds, bats, and other insects. The earliest known Lepidoptera fossils found are about 190 million years old, where most others were found in cunjunction with the flowering plants found in the Cretaceous Period. Also, Lepidoptera constitute one of the four largest groups of insects. Photograph by Jimmy Saunders

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circle of life

the four stages of lepidoptera Article by Jeffrey Miller and Paul Hammond

egg Females may lay eggs singly or in clusters, depending on the species. Most species attach their eggs to the vegetation that will serve as the foodplant for the caterpillar. Which evolutionarily, is smart for both the survival of the caterpillar once hatched, and for protection againts other elements. For instance, Phyllodesma Americana will attach a single egg to the leaf of various flowering trees that will then serve as food for the caterpillar. Some lepidoptera species, such as Orgyia antiqua, will deposit those eggs on the silk surrounding the pupal skin, while other species scatter eggs on the soil surfaces. This can include the ground near roots from trees or on leafy surfaces. Butterfly and moth egg production ranges from fewer than 100 eggs to more than 1,000 eggs per female species.

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larva Caterpillars, or larva, are the active, feeding, immature stage of moths and butterflies. With a few exceptions, caterpillars are herbivorous. Most of them feed on foliage, but some feed on roots, seeds, flowers, and within branches. Within any given environment caterpillars can be found in varying habitats. They can be found on fruits, roots and stems, or in foliage as miners. Caterpillars increase in size each time they shed their skins. Based on external morphology, it is very difficult to distinguish between the sexes prior to pupation. Most caterpillars feed and grow as solitary individuals, but a few of those species aggregate. Their growth rates are very strongly influenced by temperature and the nutritional quality of foodplants. Generally, the cooler the temperature, the slower the caterpillar’s growth rate.

pupa Metamorphosis occurs inside the pupa. A butterfly pupa is called a “chrysalis,” while a moth pupa is called a “cocoon.” Once the caterpillar has attained a critical size, it changes its behavior, stops feeding, and begins searching for a site to pupate. Pupation can last 2 to 3 weeks, or up to prolonged to more than one years time. The pupa is the overwintering life stage in many species, especially for the Lepidoptera species. This stage can range drastically, so it is very important to note which species you are studying. The adult will not mature and emerge from a pupa unless it is first exposed to a period of cold, followed by an extended period of increased warmth present in the atmopshere. The life cycle from egg (left), larva (middle), pupa (right), to adult (next page) stages captured by photographer, Roy Fisher.


A butterfly pupa is called a chrysalis, while a moth pupa is called a cocoon.

adult Moths and butterflies are the sexually mature adult life stage of Lepidoptera. The adult serves three main functions in the life cycle: mating, dispersal, and oviposition. Many moths feed on nectar or a liquid sugar source for energy required for flight. Typically, adults have two pairs of wings: a pair of forewings and a pair of hindwings. Individuals that do not have wings do not have flight muscles and typically are female associated with egg production. Mating occurs soon after adults emerge from the pupae. The search for a mate is facilitated by pheromones, which are emitted by a female. Males detect the pheromone molecules with their antennae and fly upwind to locate the female. Adult butterflies live anywhere from one week to a year, depending on the species.

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Genes determine the colors of butterfly wings; Now scientists want to paint the colors themselves. Article by Nicholas Wade

This part of the wing shows the Wnt-A gene working through intricate patterns.

This is where the wing band patterning genes are located in relation to the body.

The Crispr-Cas method became quite useful when editing areas like eyespots.

e used to think that only nature can paint the gorgeous colors and patterns on a butterfly’s wings. But scientists said on Monday that they have mastered the first steps to control the entire coloring system, making it possible to design living butterfly wings. The patterning and colors on wings are governed by suites of genes. The Crispr-Cas gene-editing technique now makes it much easier to figure out what a gene does. Two teams of biologists report in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they have used the technique

MUTATION BREAKDOWN key article terms and their relations to gene mutations in butterflies

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to explore the roles of two master genes that control the appearance of a butterfly’s wings. A group led by Linlin Zhang and Robert D. Reed of Cornell University has found that a gene called optix has a remarkable role: It controls all the color in a butterfly’s wing. When optix is deleted from the Gulf fritillary’s eggs, the resulting adult butterflies, which are mostly deep brown, wear a ghostly black and silver livery. That’s because in the absence of the optix gene, the butterfly’s scales produce melanin, a black pigment, instead of the usual chestnut coloring. A surprise came when they turned off the optix

gene in a second species, called the buckeye. The usual butterfly’s browns and yellows disappeared, replaced by scales of a blazing iridescent blue. A second group, led by Anyi Mazo-Vargas of Cornell University, has explored the gene called WntA, which plays a role in the patterning of butterflies’ wings. The standard pattern of nymphalid butterflies, a 90-million-year-old family of some 6,000 different species, consists of four bands, parallel to the body, that run between it and the edge of the wings. The second band, called the central symmetry system, contains the pattern in the middle of the wings.



gene that controls all color in butterfly and moth wings

patterning genes held parallel to body and edge of a butterfly’s wings

Understanding butterfly wing patterning is just a step toward addressing larger questions in evolutionary biology

EXPERIMENTS Dr. Martin’s team found that when they delete the WntA gene with the Crispr technique, the central symmetry system band disappears entirely from the wings of the Speckled Wood and uckeye butterflies. But in other species, the loss of WntA suggests that the gene has been adapted many times to play different patterning roles as new butterfly species evolved. In the monarch butterfly, for instance, loss of WntA affects an almost invisible white line that edges the distinctive black lines that delineate the wing’s veins. In its absence, the white lines expand into areas between the veins, replacing the distinctive orange pigment. Dr. Martin sees the WntA gene as a sketching tool that defines the outline of the wing design, and the optix gene studied by Dr. Reed’s group as a “paintbrush” gene that fills the color. The breakdown of mutating the optix gene, and other relating terms associated with the Crispr-Cas technique in the Buckeye. All photography by Lucas McGovern, amateur photographer and scientist working on this genetic mutation experiment.

DISCOVERIES Dr. Reed hopes in time to understand the patterning mechanism so well that he will be able to recreate the pattern of the butterfly’s wings on a second lepidoptera species. But understanding this wing patterning is just a tiny step toward larger questions presented in evolutionary-based biology. One is the knotty question of how the string of information in a DNA molecule specifies the 3-D structures within the butterfly. The wing gene presents this problem, in two dimensions. Another is that of how species evolve different forms. The work of these two groups shows

that genes like WntA and optix, master genes that control the activity of other genes, can evolve very different roles in different species. The nymphalid butterflies use WntA one way, while Monarch for quite another. The optix gene controls specialized wing scales in moths, but then when butterflies evolved it recruited a quite different set of servant genes, ones involved in generating pigment, not scale type. “A big question in evolutionary biology is how do you rewire the gene networks,” Dr. Reed said. Both Dr. Reed and Dr. Martin are quite enthralled by the ease continues on page 68



gene that plays a primary role in patterning of butterfly and moth wings

gene editing technique that involves removing traits to test gene mutations

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O N M A E R C H H MI T A 3 0 0 0 m i l e j o u r n ey f o r o n e l i t t l e l i fe t i me ARTICLE BY ROBE RT HATH AW


ach fall, millions of monarchs leave their summer breeding grounds in the northeastern U.S. and Canada and travel upwards of 3,000 miles to reach overwintering grounds around southwestern Mexico. Monarch butterflies are not able to survive the very cold winters of most of the United States, so they migrate to the south and west each autumn to escape the very cold weather. The monarch fall migration usually starts in fall or October of each year, but it can even start earlier on if the weather is too cold sooner than that. These Monarch butterflies usually do spend most of their winters in hibernation in Mexico and in some parts of Southern California where it is warm all year long. If the monarch lives in the Eastern states, usually east of the Rocky Mountains, it will migrate to Mexico and hibernate in oyamel fir trees. If the monarch butterfly lives west of the Rocky Mountains, then it will hibernate in and around Pacific Grove, California in eucalyptus trees.

Monarch butterflies use the same trees each and every year when they migrate, which seems odd because they aren’t the same butterflies that were there last year. Monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate that is 2,500 miles away each year. They migrate for 2 reasons. First, they can not withstand freezing weather in the northern and central continental climates in the winter. Second, the larval food plants do not grow in their winter overwintering sites, so the spring generation must fly back north to places where the plants are plentiful. While these Monarchs may seem very small and slightly insignificant, creatures like this play a crucial role in the ecosystems they inhabit. As adults, monarch butterflies visit the countless numbers of wildflowers each year as they seek out nutrient-rich nectar. In doing so, the monarchs transfer pollen from one plant to another and assist in those species’ reproduction. This makes these species a crucially important contributer to our ever-growing environment.

Map illustration and 1847 photograph contributed by Jessica Paley and John Disturnell respectively.

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Map of the United States and Mexico, illustrating the extensive Fall and Spring migration of the Monarch butterfly.

Monarch butterflies are the only insects that migrate to warmer climates that can be up to 2,500 miles away.

the blueprint

anatomy of lepidoptera Article by Dr. Nelson Bryant


oths and butterflies are made up of many different parts. From their antennea to the tips of their wings, they have an amazing internal and external anatomy. This infographic projects the main external body parts that hold great importance to the anatomy of the Lepidoptera species. The photograph shown is a moth, but what’s interesting is that the anatomy listed would be present on a butterfly exoskeleton as well. In fact, the anatomy is almost identical, with some external visual differences. So how can you spot the difference between a moth and a butterfly? Listed below are some of the main opposing characteristics that separate the two:

Butterflies have knobbed antennae, while moths have antennae that are fuzzy and lack knobs.

Moths are mainly active at night, opposite of butterflies, who fly during the day.

Bodies of moths tend to be more stout, while butterflies are usually more slender.

Butterflies are generally brighter in color than moths because they fly in the day, when colors can be seen.

When at rest, moths fold their wings back over their abdomens, while butterflies hold their wings straight up or to the side.

coastal margin

projecting line on the side of the wing

fore wings

the upper set of wing pairs

outer margin

outer edge of the wings

hind wings

the lower set of wing pairs

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details compound eye

made up of many hexagonal lenses like other similar insects (located under antennae base)


part of insect that contains the brain, compound eyes,


a sensory appendage that is attached to the head, used for sense of smell and balance


body section between the head and the abdomen where legs and wings are attached

Antherea Polyphemeres of the subfamily Plusiinae with a wing span of 6cm


segmented tail area of insect that contains the vital organs


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more than just a


natural beauty Article by National Butterfly Conservation

utterflies conjure up images of sunshine, the warmth and colour of flowery meadows, and summer gardens teaming with life. Moths are one of the most diverse group of insects on earth, ranging from spectacular Hawk moths to small, intricately patterned Footman moths. Sadly, four butterflies and over 60 moths became extinct during the last 150 years. Three quarters of British butterflies are in decline and many moths are also facing an uncertain future. Their fragility makes them quick to react to change so their struggle to survive is a serious warning about our environment. Habitats have been destroyed on a massive scale, and now patterns of climate and weather are shifting unpredictably in response to pollution of the atmosphere. The disappearance of these beautiful creatures is more

serious than just a loss of colour in the countryside. Conserving butterflies will improve our whole environment for wildlife and enrich the lives of people now and in the future.

an insect group unmatched in geographical scale and timescale anywhere in the world. This has proved quite important for the scientific research on climate change.

There are many reasons why butterflies and moths are important, both in their own right but also as quality of life indicators. The following are the main values of butterflies and moths around the world.

Butterflies and moths have fascinating life-cycles that are used in many countries to teach children about the natural world. The transformation from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis is one of the many wonders found in nature, like their wings.

aesthetic Butterflies and moths are such beautiful creatures and they provide a sort of beauty to the world we live in. They are often portrayed as one of the essences of nature or as the representation of freedom, beauty and signs of peace.

Areas rich in butterflies and moths are rich in other invertebrates as well. These collectively provide a wide range of environmental benefits, including pollination and a great source of natural pest control. They are an important element of the food chain as well as prey for birds, bats and other animals.

scientific The long history and popularity of butterfly study have provided unique data resources on

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The importance of the Lepidoptera species through human interaction, educational value, and scientific discovery captured by Kristin Fuller

• for educational purposes only •