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Keywords:

  • blastoderm;
  • butterfly development;
  • embryo morphogenesis;
  • germ band;
  • Heliconius

This study reports on the embryogenesis of Heliconius erato phyllis between blastoderm formation and the prehatching larval stage. Syncytial blastoderm formation occurred approximately 2 h after egg laying (AEL) and at about 4 h, the cellular blastoderm was formed. The germ band arose from the entire length of the blastoderm, and rapidly became compacted occupying approximately two-thirds of the egg length. At about 7 h AEL, protocephalon and protocorm differentiation occurred. Continued proliferation of the germ band was followed by penetration into the yolk mass, forming a C-shaped embryo at about 10 h. Approximately 12 h AEL, the gnathal, thoracic and abdominal segments became visible. The primordium of the mouthparts and thoracic legs formed as paired evaginations, while the prolegs formed as paired lobes. At about 30 h, the embryo reversed dorsoventrally. Approximately 32 h AEL, the protocephalon and gnathal segments fused, shifting the relative position of the rudimentary appendages in this region. At about 52 h, the embryo was U-shaped in lateral view and at approximately 56 h, the bristles began evagination from the larval cuticle. Larvae hatched at about 72 h. We found that H. erato phyllis followed an embryonic pattern consistent with long-germ embryogenesis. Thus, we believe that H. erato phyllis should be classified as a long-germ lepidopteran. The study of H. erato phyllis embryogenesis provided a structural glimpse into the morphogenetic events that occur in the Heliconius egg period. This study could help future molecular approaches to understanding the evolution of Heliconius development.