Butterfly Bacteria Study revealed certain surprises about Metamorphosis

Scientists from the University of Colorado Boulder sequenced the bacteria of the red postman butterfly to learn more about the insect’s three major stages of life. The new study that has sequenced internal bacteria makeup of a butterfly has revealed some surprise discoveries about metamorphosis. It has shown that the internal microbial make-up of the red postman butterfly changed dramatically from caterpillar to pupa to adult. This is the first time researchers have ever sequenced the entire microbiome of a butterfly. 

  • The red postman is a tropical butterfly found commonly in Central and South America. Scientific name: Heliconius erato.
  • Objective of study: To help the agriculture industry understands why butterflies and caterpillars can be damaging to crops. 
Why the red postman butterfly chose by scientists to study bacteria?

Typically, butterflies feed on nectar and have very short lifespan. However, the red postman butterflies can extract nutrients from the pollen and greatly extend its life. They feed on pollen, known to be rich in amino acids.
As per the study

  • The red postman’s internal bacteria split in half upon transitioning from caterpillar to chrysalis. Also known as the pupil stage, the internal bacteria then doubled again when it went from the chrysalis into butterfly adulthood.
  • In other words, the microbial community simplified and reorganized itself during the transition from caterpillar to pupa. The diversity double after the adult butterflies had emerged and began going about their business of feeding.
  • Butterflies are ‘microbial habitats’ for bacteria. Butterflies are ecologically and scientifically important, and their transformation from caterpillar to chrysalis to winged adult is one of the most remarkable phenomena of the natural world.

Objective of the study: The communities of bacteria inhabiting other insects have been shown to affect host nutrition, digestion, detoxification and defense from predators, parasites and pathogens.



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