Newly Discovered Hybrid Species of Butterfly has Clues to Climate Change in Alaska

By Christian Dann Quiroz, Parent Herald March 22, 04:40 am

A new hybrid species of butterfly was discovered by a University of Florida researcher in Alaska. It is said the new butterfly could be a source of new findings of the state's history and its climate change.

Andrew Warren, a lepidopterist, stated that the newly discovered hybrid species of butterfly, called the Tanana Arctic, came from a cross breed of two different but related species of butterflies, the White-veined Arctic and the Chryxus Arctic. He thinks that all the three species existed before the last ice age in the Beringia region, Washington Post reported.

 Although the scientists have been seeing the Tanana Arctic butterfly for more than six decades, they believe that it is the same species as the Chryxus Arctic butterfly because of their similarity. Warren noticed its clear characteristics.

The Tanana Arctic butterfly has penny-colored wings with white speck on the underside where it gets its "frosted" appearance. It is also darker and larger than other species. What made Warren believe that it is a hybrid is the butterfly's unique DNA sequence which is similar to nearby populations of White-veined Arctics.

"Hybrid species demonstrate that animals evolved in a way that people haven't really thought about much before, although the phenomenon is fairly well studied in plants," said Warren.

"Scientists who study plants and fish have suggested that unglaciated parts of ancient Alaska known as Beringia, including the strip of land that once connected Asia and what's now Alaska, served as a refuge where plants and animals waited out the last ice age and then moved eastward or southward from there," Warren explained. "This is potentially a supporting piece of evidence for that."

The ice age forced the Chryxus Arctic butterflies to move south to the Rockies, and the Tanana Arctic butterflies and the White-veined Arctic butterflies stayed in Beringia, as reported by UPI.

Today, the Tanana Arctic butterflies are staying at Alaska's Tanana-Yukon River Basin's spruce and aspen forests.

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