Belgian researchers discover how climate change affects butterflies’ sexuality


A team of Belgian researchers has discovered the effects of climate change on the sexuality of butterflies.

Butterflies are capable of changing their sexual preference through learned behaviour, a team led by UCLouvain professor Caroline Nieberding discovered.

The research by Nieberding and her team, which collaborated with Bertanne Visser of the University of Liège, is important for several reasons. While it implies that insects are capable of learning complex things, something more alarming is at play.

Indeed, this adaptive trait could accelerate butterflies’ extinction, according to the Belgian researchers. The Bicyclus anynana butterfly, for example, which lives in Africa, has started developing into two very different forms depending on whether they develop in the warm season or the colder season.

Normally, the female butterflies would prefer to reproduce with the males born in the dry season, as they cause the females to produce more eggs and their females live longer. However, with temperatures increasing, there is the risk that the females will learn to mate with those born in the rainy season -- the ones that produce fewer eggs --, thus increasing the risk of extinction.

The researchers are breeding the warm-season Bicyclus anynana to be able to continue to carry out experiments under controlled conditions.

Let’s applaud the efforts of this team of Belgian scientists!