Butterfly wings hold deadly cone snail neurotoxin
By Dr. Neil Dan Fernandes

The vibrant red-orange tips on the Great Orange Tip (Hebomoia glaucippe) butterfly’s fore-wings are not just eye catching; they contain a poisonous toxin and serve as a warning coloration to predators that the butterfly is distasteful. The adult butterfly is well protected by poisons accumulated by the caterpillar from its toxic larval food plant.

Interestingly, scientists have found the same peptide toxin (glacontryphan-M) is also made by an unexpected animal: the predatory cone sea snail, Conus marmoreus. This snail, commonly known as the Marble Cone snail captures its prey by attacking them with a harpoon loaded with a paralyzing concoction of neurotoxic drugs.

Scientists were surprised to find a chemically identical toxin in two animals that are not closely related in evolutionary terms. Convergent evolution (independent evolution of similar features in distantly related species) has been proposed as the most logical solution to this riddle. It is assumed that the Great Orange Tip butterfly evolved the toxin as a defensive mechanism to ward off predators, while the Marble Cone snail evolved the toxin to effectively kill prey.