Research ArticleORGANISMAL BIOLOGY

Prepatterning of Papilio xuthus caterpillar camouflage is controlled by three homeobox genes: clawless, abdominal-A, and Abdominal-B

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Science Advances  10 Apr 2019:
Vol. 5, no. 4, eaav7569
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav7569

Abstract

Color patterns often function as camouflage to protect insects from predators. In most swallowtail butterflies, younger larvae mimic bird droppings but change their pattern to mimic their host plants during their final molt. This pattern change is determined during the early fourth instar by juvenile hormone (JH-sensitive period), but it remains unclear how the prepatterning process is controlled. Using Papilio xuthus larvae, we performed transcriptome comparisons to identify three camouflage pattern–associated homeobox genes [clawless, abdominal-A, and Abdominal-B (Abd-B)] that are up-regulated during the JH-sensitive period in a region-specific manner. Electroporation-mediated knockdown of each gene at the third instar caused loss or change of original fifth instar patterns, but not the fourth instar mimetic pattern, and knockdown of Abd-B after the JH-sensitive period had no effect on fifth instar patterns. These results indicate the role of these genes during the JH-sensitive period and in the control of the prepatterning gene network.

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