Nymphalid butterfly species often have a different number of eyespots in forewings and hindwings, but how the hindwing identity gene Ultrabithorax (Ubx) drives this asymmetry is not fully understood. We examined a three-gene regulatory network for eyespot development in the hindwings of Bicyclus anynana butterflies and compared it with the same network previously described for forewings. We also examined how Ubx interacts with each of these three eyespot-essential genes. We found similar genetic interactions between the three genes in fore- and hindwings, but we discovered three regulatory differences: Antennapedia (Antp) merely enhances spalt (sal) expression in the eyespot foci in hindwings, but is not essential for sal activation, as in forewings; Ubx upregulates Antp in all hindwing eyespot foci but represses Antp outside these wing regions; and Ubx regulates sal in a wing sector-specific manner, i.e. it activates sal expression only in the sectors that have hindwing-specific eyespots. We propose a model for how the regulatory connections between these four genes evolved to produce wing- and sector-specific variation in eyespot number.

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