Phylogeny and Barcoding

Chrysoritis is a genus of butterflies in the tribe Aphnaeini, within the family Lycaenidae.  The genus comprises 42 species, most of whose wing patterns are very similar, though they differ with respect to their plant and ant associations.  The adults are bright orange, with some having an opalescent silvery blue layer on the upper side of the wings.  It appears that dimorphism evolved after the evolution of the blue coloring, and that it has been lost several times.  Adults usually like to fly on arid hilltops, prominences and ridges.  The males are territorial and frequently chase other individuals from perches on rocks, flowers or twigs.  The larvae feed on over 15 families of plants (although each individual species feeds on only one to a few families). They are typically always found with attendant ants (Crematogaster or Myrmicaria), and they often shelter under rocks or in ants’ nests, emerging to feed at night.  The larvae of one species have also been observed to be fed mouth to mouth by the ants (Woodhall 2005). 

The radiation of Chrysoritis, which started about 4.7 million years ago (ZAK, preliminary data based on a estimated CO1 rate of 1.5% per million year), appears to have occurred at the same time as the diversification of the fynbos (Simon Vannoart, personal communication).  Fynbos (meaning “fine bush” in Afrikaans) refers to the belt of distinct vegetation in the Western Cape of South Africa.  It is a region that is unusually rich in species diversity: the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, it is nevertheless the richest per unit of area.  The fynbos supports over 9000 species of plants, 6200 of which are endemic.  This is more diversity than is found in any tropical rainforest.  Thus it is an area conducive to asking questions about why and how organisms speciate and diversify.

                                                                               Chrysoritis thysbe

                                                               photo by Ada Kaliszewska