Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Two sisters in the same dress: Heliconius cryptic species

Nathalia Giraldo1, Camilo Salazar13, Chris D Jiggins2, Eldredge Bermingham3 and Mauricio Linares1*

Author Affiliations

1 Instituto de Genética, Universidad de los Andes, Carrera 1 No 18a – 70, P.O. Box 4976, Bogotá D.C, Colombia

2 Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK

3 Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Apartado 0843-03092, Panamá, República de Panamá

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2008, 8:324  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-8-324

Published: 28 November 2008



Sister species divergence and reproductive isolation commonly results from ecological adaptation. In mimetic Heliconius butterflies, shifts in colour pattern contribute to pre- and post-mating reproductive isolation and are commonly correlated with speciation. Closely related mimetic species are therefore not expected, as they should lack several important sources of reproductive isolation.


Here we present phenotypic, behavioral and genetic evidence for the coexistence of two sympatric 'cryptic' species near Florencia in the eastern Andes of Colombia that share the same orange rayed colour pattern. These represent H. melpomene malleti and a novel taxon in the H. cydno group, here designated as novel race of Heliconius timareta, Heliconius timareta florencia. No-choice mating experiments show that these sympatric forms have strong assortative mating (≈96%) despite great similarity in colour pattern, implying enhanced divergence in pheromonal signals.


We hypothesize that these species might have resulted from recent convergence in colour pattern, perhaps facilitated by hybrid introgression of wing pattern genes.