By: Morgan Stemple and Jaycee Thomas
Ana Carvalho is a graduate student studying entomology at the University of Florida (UF) and researcher for the Florida Museum of Natural History's (FLMNH) McGuire Center for Lepidoptera and Biodiversity. Her research specializes in the sexual dynamics of butterflies, morphology, and phylogenetic history. Carvalho is interested in learning the level of reproductive success when mating structures, like wing design, are present. Emily Ellis is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Florida Museum and specializes in Lepidoptera, winged-insects such as moths and butterflies. She uses ancestral methods to answer questions relating to sexual selection and trait evolution in butterflies and moths.
Butterflies have two types of wing patterns: visible color and ultraviolet light (UV). The UV patterns that butterflies possess are invisible to the human eye. However, butterflies themselves are able to sense these patterns and use them to attract mates. The colored patterns are displayed on both the dorsal (top) and ventral (bottom) wings and each has a varying purpose. When resting with wings closed, butterflies expose their ventral surfaces; the patterns on these surfaces enable camouflage or protection from predators. When the wings are open, dorsal surfaces are exposed and display colors and patterns intended to attract potential mates.
Theories from Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace guide Carvalho and Ellis' research. They are testing whether the UV wing patterns differ between the sexes due to sexual (Darwin) or natural selection (Wallace). They are mapping the presence of UV wing patterns onto onto species-level relationships to elucidate the evolutionary trajectory of this trait.
Carvalho and Ellis are producing images of butterfly wing patterns using a high-tech camera that blocks out all visible and infrared light, only allowing UV light to pass through. UV light can reveal skin damage, blood, bruising and more on the human body. For insects, UV light reveals what the butterflies' eyes see on other butterfly wing patterns. This imaging allows humans to see the world through the eyes of butterflies in order to better understand the mating process.
Jaycee Thomas is currently a student at the University of Florida where she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Education and Communications. Upon graduation, Thomas plans to obtain her Macc before becoming a CPA. She has an extensive background with hands-on agricultural practices and hopes to one day be an agricultural accountant while helping manage her family farm.
Morgan Stemple is currently attending the University of Florida as a pre-law student pursuing an agricultural degree in hopes of becoming an environmental lawyer. Stemple is passionate about agriculture advocacy and environmental protection. Stemple is highly active in a number of agricultural and leadership programs and clubs at the university and strives to continue to research and advocate for agriculture.