Summary The color patterns on the wings of lepidopterans are among the most striking patterns in nature and have inspired diverse biological hypotheses such as the ecological role of aposomatic coloration, the evolution of mimicry, the role of human activities in industrial melanism, and the developmental basis of phenotypic plasticity. Yet, the developmental mechanisms underlying color pattern development are not well understood for three reasons. First, few mutations that alter color patterns have been characterized at the molecular level, so there is little mechanistic understanding of how mutant phenotypes are produced. Second, although gene expression patterns resembling adult color patterns are suggestive, there are few data available showing that gene products have a functional role in color pattern formation. Finally, because with few exceptions (notably Bombyx), genetic maps for most species of Lepidoptera are rudimentary or nonexistent, it is very difficult to characterize spontaneous mutants or to determine whether mutations with similar phenotypes are because of lesions in the same gene or different genes. Discussed here are two strategies for overcoming these difficulties: germ-line transformation of lepidopteran species using transposon vectors and amplified frequency length polymorphism-based genetic mapping using variation between divergent strains within a species or between closely related and interfertile species. These advances, taken together, will create new opportunities for the characterization of existing genetic variants, the creation of new sequence-tagged mutants, and the testing of proposed functional genetic relationships between gene products, and will greatly facilitate our understanding of the evolution and development of lepidopteran color patterns.