Defining the colour pattern phenotype in bumble bees (Bombus): A new model for evo devo

Zoi Rapti, Michelle A. Duennes, Sydney A. Cameron

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Few insects exhibit the striking colour pattern radiation found in bumble bees (Bombus), which have diversified globally into a wide range of colours and patterns. Their potent sting is often advertised by conspicuous bands of contrasting colour commonly mimicked by scores of harmless (Batesian mimics) and noxious species (Müllerian co-mimics). Despite extensive documentation of colour pattern diversification, next to nothing is known about the genetic regulation of pattern formation in bumble bees, hindering progress toward a more general model of the evolution of colour pattern mimicry. A critical first step in understanding the colour pattern genotype is an unambiguous understanding of the phenotype under selection, which has not been objectively defined in bumble bees. Here, we quantitatively define the principal colour pattern elements that comprise the phenotype array across all species. Matrix analysis of meticulously scored colour patterns of ~95% of described species indicates there are 12 discrete primary 'ground plan' elements in common among all species, many of which correspond to segmentation patterning. Additional secondary elements characterize individual species and geographical variants. The boundaries of these elements appear to correspond to expression patterns of Hox genes in Drosophila and Apis but also suggest novel post-Hox specialization of abdominal patterning. Our findings provide the first foundation for exploring candidate genes regulating adaptive pattern variation in bumble bees and broaden the framework for understanding common genetic mechanisms of pattern evolution in insects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)384-404
Number of pages21
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Apidae
  • Evo devo
  • Hymenoptera
  • Mimetic evolution
  • Müllerian mimicry
  • Pattern elements

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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