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Mitochondrial and nuclear phylogenetic analysis with Sanger and next-generation sequencing shows that, in Área de Conservación Guanacaste, northwestern Costa Rica, the skipper butterfly named Urbanus belli (family Hesperiidae) comprises three morphologically cryptic species

Claudia Bertrand1, Daniel H Janzen2, Winnie Hallwachs2, John M Burns3, Joel F Gibson1, Shadi Shokralla14 and Mehrdad Hajibabaei1*

Author Affiliations

1 Biodiversity Institute of Ontario & Department of Integrative Biology, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada

2 Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA

3 Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, P.O.Box 37012, Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA

4 Department of Microbiology, Mansoura University, 35516 Mansoura, Egypt

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2014, 14:153  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-14-153

Published: 9 July 2014



Skipper butterflies (Hesperiidae) are a relatively well-studied family of Lepidoptera. However, a combination of DNA barcodes, morphology, and natural history data has revealed several cryptic species complexes within them. Here, we investigate three DNA barcode lineages of what has been identified as Urbanus belli (Hesperiidae, Eudaminae) in Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG), northwestern Costa Rica.


Although no morphological traits appear to distinguish among the three, congruent nuclear and mitochondrial lineage patterns show that “Urbanus belli” in ACG is a complex of three sympatric species. A single strain of Wolbachia present in two of the three cryptic species indicates that Urbanus segnestami Burns (formerly Urbanus belliDHJ01), Urbanus bernikerni Burns (formerly Urbanus belliDHJ02), and Urbanus ehakernae Burns (formerly Urbanus belliDHJ03) may be biologically separated by Wolbachia, as well as by their genetics. Use of parallel sequencing through 454-pyrosequencing improved the utility of ITS2 as a phylogenetic marker and permitted examination of the intra- and interlineage relationships of ITS2 variants within the species complex. Interlineage, intralineage and intragenomic compensatory base pair changes were discovered in the secondary structure of ITS2.


These findings corroborate the existence of three cryptic species. Our confirmation of a novel cryptic species complex, initially suggested by DNA barcode lineages, argues for using a multi-marker approach coupled with next-generation sequencing for exploration of other suspected species complexes.

Lepidoptera; Intragenomic variation; Non-metric multi-dimensional scaling; Phylogeny; DNA barcoding