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Keywords:

  • Heliconius;
  • mimicry;
  • morphological evolution;
  • polymorphism;
  • wing shape

Mimetic resemblance in unpalatable butterflies has been studied by evolutionary biologists for over a century, but has largely focused on the convergence in wing color patterns. In Heliconius numata, discrete color-pattern morphs closely resemble comimics in the distantly related genus Melinaea. We examine the possibility that the shape of the butterfly wing also shows adaptive convergence. First, simple measures of forewing dimensions were taken of individuals in a cross between H. numata morphs, and showed quantitative differences between two of the segregating morphs, f. elegans and f. silvana. Second, landmark-based geometric morphometric and elliptical Fourier outline analyses were used to more fully characterize these shape differences. Extension of these techniques to specimens from natural populations suggested that, although many of the coexisting morphs could not be discriminated by shape, the differences we identified between f. elegans and f. silvana hold in the wild. Interestingly, despite extensive overlap, the shape variation between these two morphs is paralleled in their respective Melinaea comimics. Our study therefore suggests that wing-shape variation is associated with mimetic resemblance, and raises the intriguing possibility that the supergene responsible for controlling the major switch in color pattern between morphs also contributes to wing shape differences in H. numata.