In January and February of this year, Nicola and I set out into the field, visiting some very remote and very beautiful places in Colombia and Panama.
We began in Colombia, armed with our nets and the invaluable knowledge of our collaborators: Carolina Pardo-Diaz, Camilo Salazar and Mauricio Linares. We started out sampling in the Andean forests of the Cauca Valley then moved up the Pacific coast into the hot and humid forests of the Chocó region. This allowed us to collect Heliconius melpomene and Heliconius erato butterflies which display a moderate level of iridescence, and represent an intermediate point along a gradient between the bright blue populations of Ecuador, and the completely non-iridescent populations found further north in Panama.
Next we ventured into the (perhaps notorious) Darién Province of Panama. This was an interesting region to sample, as it is where the ranges of multiple H. erato and H. melpomene races, each with distinct wing colour patterns, overlap. This results in widespread hybridisation (see the photo below).
The phenotypic variation between the individuals we collected will hopefully provide us with the opportunity to pinpoint the genetic regions responsible for controlling iridescent colour in these butterflies.