A rare he-she butterfly is born in London's NHM

Neil Jones neil at nwjones.demon.co.uk
Wed Jul 13 18:33:15 EDT 2011


  A rare he-she butterfly is born in London's NHM

By Jennifer Carpenter Science reporter, BBC News
Rare beauty: Only 200 of the 4.5 million butterflies in London's Natural 
History Museum are a mix of two sexes.


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A half-male, half-female butterfly has hatched at London's Natural 
History Museum.

A line down the insect's middle marks the division between its male side 
and its more colourful female side.

Failure of the butterfly's sex chromosomes to separate during 
fertilisation is behind this rare sexual chimera.

Once it has lived out its month-long life, the butterfly will join the 
museum's collection.

Only 0.01% of hatching butterflies are gynandromorphs; the technical 
term for these strange asymmetrical creatures.

"So you can understand why I was bouncing off of the walls when I 
learned that... [it] had emerged in the puparium," said butterfly 
enthusiast Luke Brown from London's Natural History Museum.

Mr Brown built his first butterfly house when he was seven, and has 
hatched out over 300 thousand butterflies; this is only his third 

Half and half

It is not only the wings that are affected, he explained. The 
butterfly's body is split in two, its sexual organs are half and half, 
and even its antennae are different lengths.

"It is a complete split; part-male, part-female... welded together 
inside," he told the BBC.

The dual-sex butterfly is an example of a Great Mormon, /Papilio memnon 
- /a species that is native to Asia.

With a shortage of butterfly-specific gender neutral pronouns, the 
butterfly is being referred to as "it", and is already middle-aged at 
three and a half week's old.

So the public has only a narrow window of opportunity to see it alive.

Though rare, gynandromorphy isn't unique to butterflies; individual 
crabs, lobsters, spiders and chickens have all been found with a mix of 
two sexes.

There are likely many more cases in the natural world, but sexual 
chimeras are more difficult to spot in animals where females and males 
look alike.

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