When Species Make Babies

Seed magazine, which appears to be the new black, links to this NatGeo article on new evidence for species hybridization in animals. It’s not like the whole concept of “species” needed new weirdness, but given that one of the most common work-definitions of species is ‘things which can have sexually viable offspring with each other’, it seems like the fact that it’s “reasonably common” for even different animal species to have sexually viable offspring with each other kind of throws it for another loop. This further increases my suspicion that ecology’s inheritance of the Victorian obsession with species as the basic unit of biology should be thought through some more. What I really like about the article though, is this bit:

Last year a team led by Jesus Mavarez of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute published details about a hybrid butterfly species from Venezuela and Colombia that appears to use several tactics to isolate itself. The hybrid butterfly, Heliconius heurippa, inherited yellow wing markings from one parent species and red from the other. The study team found that both wing colors where needed to attract a mate, so the butterfly tended to breed only with its own kind. The hybrid insect was also found to live at a slightly higher altitude than either of its two parent species. And the butterfly’s caterpillar appears to prefer different plants as food.

I don’t know why exactly, but that actually gives me the chills. The new ‘species’ doesn’t live at elevations in between the other two, it lives above them both. And it eats different things than either. That’s just cool.

Sometimes, when two species love each other very much…

1 comment:

[…] For several weeks I have been meaning to read up on Lenski et al’s 20-year test tube experiment, in which they observed the rise of novel, beneficial traits in populations of bacteria they stored in a closet. It’s interesting to me because (if I read the summaries right) only some of the test tubes evolved the traits, which suggests an interesting contingency in evolution. I love ragged ass evolution. […]

leave a comment