Background: The colorful wing patterns of butterflies, a prime example of biodiversity, can change dramatically within closely related species. Wing pattern diversity is specifically present among papilionid butterflies. Whether a correlation between color and the evolution of these butterflies exists so far remained unsolved.
Results: We here investigate the Cattlehearts, Parides, a small Neotropical genus of papilionid butterflies with 36 members, the wings of which are marked by distinctly colored patches. By applying various physical techniques, we investigate the coloration toolkit of the wing scales. The wing scales contain two different, wavelength-selective absorbing pigments, causing pigmentary colorations. Scale ridges with multilayered lamellae, lumen multilayers or gyroid photonic crystals in the scale lumen create structural colors that are variously combined with these pigmentary colors.
Conclusions: The pigmentary and structural traits strongly correlate with the taxonomical distribution of Parides species. The experimental findings add crucial insight into the evolution of butterfly wing scales and show the importance of morphological parameter mapping for butterfly phylogenetics.