Pharmacological and surgical experiments on wing pattern development of Lepidoptera, with a focus on the eyespots of saturniid moths


  • Andrei Sourakov
  • Leila T. Shirai


The outstanding diversity of wing color patterns found in Lepidoptera has fascinated humans for centuries, but we know little about the common developmental mechanisms that shape this diversity across the order. For instance, the eyespot is a pattern element found in numerous lineages that may be separated by over 100 million years of evolution, but whether it is the result of homologous developmental mechanisms or convergent evolution remains unclear. Here, we review published data on the effects of the medical drug heparin, known to affect wing pattern development in Lepidoptera. We then report on novel experiments using this drug with 38 individuals of Antheraea polyphemus and 88 individuals of Automeris io, discussing the commonalities and differences between these two species that represent two major lineages within Saturniidae, and between saturniid moths and nymphalid butterflies. Lastly, we report observations of localized changes in wing scale color resulting from between-pupae transplants of presumed eyespot organizers based on preliminary results involving 18 transplants performed on A. io and Actias luna. The latter surgical procedures were accompanied by control cuts, cross-vein disruptions, and point injuries with strong but conflicting evidence for wound-induced color patterns.