Two butterfly species evolved into third, in the lab

Scientists said they have created a distinctive red and yellow butterfly in the laboratory by interbreeding two different species in a way similar to what they believe has occurred in nature.

The laboratory hybrid is nearly identical to a wild species of butterfly in Colombia known as Heliconius heurippa.

"We recreated the evolutionary steps that may have given rise to Heliconius heurippa, a hybrid butterfly species, in the lab," said Jesus Mavarez, of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama, reports Reuters.

The hybrid lab butterfly was created by interbreeding two butterflies with different wing markings. H. cydno has black wings with white and yellow markings, while H. melpomene has black wings with red, yellow and orange markings. The lab hybrid had black wings with red and yellow markings.

H. cydno and H. melpomene can be found near each other in the wilds of Mexico and northern South America. Where the habitats of these two butterflies overlap, a third butterfly, called H. heurippa, is found. Interestingly, the color markings on the wing of the natural-born H. heurippa are nearly identical to those of the lab-made hybrid.

The study supports a long-held suspicion among biologists that H. heurippa is a wild hybrid. The researchers believe it was created naturally from the interbreeding of the same two butterfly species used to create the lab hybrid, reports MSNBC.

According to National Geographic, researchers say their creation reveals a process called hybrid speciation, in which the genes of two existing species combine to produce a third.

The study suggests hybridization may be more important to the evolution of new animals than had previously been thought.

Hybrids such as the mule, a cross between a donkey and a horse, are sterile. But the team says the butterfly hybrid brought together a combination of genes that allowed it to breed and there be considered a new species.