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Bizarre Butterfly is Half Male, Half Female

Jan 08, 2015 01:08 PM EST

In the case of one butterfly, it doesn't know what it wants. That's because this beautiful insect boasts both genders on each side of its body, making it half male, half female, new research shows.

Later identified as a Common Archduke butterfly (Lexias pardalis) - better known as the "brush-footed" butterfly - its unusual features were first realized by Chris Johnson, a volunteer at a butterfly exhibit at Drexel University.

"I thought, somebody's fooling with me. It's just too perfect," Johnson said in a statement. "Then I got goose bumps."

The extremely unusual butterfly - which emerged from its chrysalis or the stage during which it turns into an adult - spread its remarkable wings to reveal characteristics that were both male and female. Its two right wings were typical of the female of its species - large and brown with yellow and white spots. Meanwhile, its two left wings sported a darker green, blue and purple coloring, a pattern archetypal of males.

"It slowly opened up, and the wings were so dramatically different, it was immediately apparent what it was," Johnson said.

The strange sight is an example of a rare condition called gynandromorphy, which means an organism has physical characteristics of both males and females, resulting from a genetic mutation. It can either result in bilateral symmetry, as in this case with two sides distinctively male and female, or the gynandromorphy can be mosaic, where the two sexes aren't defined as clearly.

This is not to be confused with hermaphroditism, in which an organism has both male and female reproductive organs but has external characteristics of one gender.

This phenomenon is mostly commonly seen in butterflies and birds, whose sexes have very different colorations. For example, researchers recently reported on a "split-sex" cardinal that showed off bright red on the left of its body, and pale female feather on the right. Unfortunately its rare features have led to a lonely and quiet existence for the bird, and it remains to be seen if the same will become of this brush-footed butterfly.

For now, the half-and-half butterfly - preserved and pinned - will be on display at the Academy of Natural Sciences (ANS) of Drexel University for visitors to see from Jan. 17 through Feb. 16,

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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