Sex chromosome evolution in moths and butterflies

Ken Sahara*, Atsuo Yoshido, Walther Traut

*Corresponding author for this work
40 Citations (Scopus)


Lepidoptera, i.e. moths and butterflies, have a female heterogametic sex chromosome system, with most females having a WZ constitution while males are ZZ. Besides this predominant WZ/ZZ system, Z/ZZ, WZ 1Z 2/Z 1Z 1Z 2Z 2 and W 1W 2Z/ZZ systems also occur. Sex is determined by an unknown W-linked gene or genes in Bombyx mori, but by dosage-dependent and equally unknown Z-linked genes in all Z/ZZ species. The female heterogametic sex chromosome system has been conserved for at least 180 MY in the phylogenetic branch that combines Lepidoptera and Trichoptera. The W chromosome, which is present in most lepidopteran species, was incorporated in the sex chromosome system much later, about 90-100 MY ago. The Z chromosomes are highly conserved among Lepidoptera, much like the Z in birds or the X in mammals. The W, on the other hand, is evolving rapidly. It is crammed with repetitive elements which appear to have a high turnover rate but poor in or even devoid of protein-coding genes. It has frequently undergone fusion with autosomes or sporadically lost altogether.

Original languageEnglish
JournalChromosome Research
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)83-94
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 01.01.2012


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