Image: Hebomoia glaucippe butterfly
A Hebomoia glaucippe butterfly from Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Researchers report on Oct. 15, 2012, in the journal PNAS, that they have found a toxin previously only known in a sea snail in the wings of this butterfly.
By Contributor
updated 10/15/2012 4:53:47 PM ET 2012-10-15T20:53:47

An Asian butterfly's white wings tipped with vibrant red-orange are not only eye catching, they contain a poison, scientists have found.

They share this venom with an unlikely counterpart: predatory sea snails, which harpoon their prey to inject a cocktail of paralyzing venoms, including this one.

The butterfly, Hebomoia glaucippe, likely uses the toxin as a defense rather than a weapon, writes the Austrian research team, noting that many of the butterfly's predators, including birds, ants and the orchid mantis, avoid the wings. Hungry geckos, however, may not be bothered by it, because they eat the entire animal, wings and all, they add. 

  1. Science news from
    1. NOAA
      Cosmic rays may spark Earth's lightning

      All lightning on Earth may have its roots in space, new research suggests.

    2. How our brains can track a 100 mph pitch
    3. Moth found to have ultrasonic hearing
    4. Quantum network could secure Internet

The team analyzed the proteins from the bodies and wings of H. glaucippe butterflies collected from multiple locations in southeastern Asia, finding a relatively high abundance of the toxin called glacontryphan-M. This toxin has so far only been found in the sea snail species Conus marmoreus, commonly known as the marble cone snail. 

The researchers write they are now examining samples of the butterfly collected elsewhere for the toxin and looking at other toxic animals for clues as to the evolutionary reason a butterfly and sea snail share an identical toxin.

The study was published online Oct. 15 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Follow LiveScienceon Twitter@livescience. We're also onFacebook &Google+.

© 2012 All rights reserved.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments