New Species of Butterfly Found Flying Over Northern Slopes of Caucasus Mountains; Identification of Unusual Butterfly with 46 Chromosomes Culminates 20 Years of Study

What looked like a population of a common butterfly species turned out to be an entirely new species, and, moreover - one with a very peculiar genome organization. Discovered by Dr. Vladimir Lukhtanov, entomologist and evolutionary biologist at the Zoological Institute in St. Petersburg, Russia, and Dr. Alexander Dantchenko, entomologist and chemist at the Moscow State University, the discovery was named South-Russian blue (Polyommatus australorossicus). It was found flying over the northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. The study was published online on November 24, 2017 in the open-access journal Comparative Cytogenetics. The article is titled “A New Butterfly Species from South Russia Revealed Through Chromosomal and Molecular Analysis of the Polyommatus (Agrodiaetus) damonides Complex (Lepidoptera, Lycaenidae). (Editor's note: The image here shows a common blue butterfly from norther Norway, not the newly identified species.) "This publication is the long-awaited completion of a twenty-year history," says Dr. Lukhtanov. In the mid-nineties, Dr. Lukhtanov, together with his students and collaborators, started an exhaustive study of Russian butterflies using an array of modern and traditional research techniques. In 1997, Dr. Dantchenko, who was mostly focused on butterfly ecology, sampled a few blue butterfly specimens from northern slopes of the Caucasus mountains. These blues looked typical at first glance and were identified as Azerbaijani blue (Polyommatus aserbeidschanus). However, when the scientists looked at the cells of these butterflies under a microscope, it became clear that they had 46 chromosomes - a very unusual number for this group of the blue butterflies and exactly the same count as in humans.
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