Rare discovery made at KU

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LAWRENCE, Kan. -- An extremely rare discovery at the University of Kansas leaves a professor who has been researching monarch butterflies for decades in shock.

A typical monarch butterfly has an orange color, so KU students and staff were surprised when they discovered two white monarchs in their lab.

"They had a little bit more of an idea what was going on than we did," said one student, Keath Rankin.

Students came to their professor a few months ago with a discovery.

"They said they discovered two white monarchs in the culture that we were maintaining," said Chip Taylor, the Director of Monarch Watch at KU.

Taylor says he was shocked.

"It was such an unusual event that I said, hey we have to breed those," added Taylor.

They were two white females. Taylor says they had to hand-pair a couple of them.

"We took normal monarchs and mated them with the white Monarchs," Taylor said.

Ann Ryan, the program assistant, says it took three generations to finally produce the white monarchs.

"It`s a recessive gene, and so, both the male and female have to be carrying it for it to express itself," said Ryan.

"We bred those and reproduced an offspring ratio of three normal to one white," said Taylor.

Taylor says white monarchs are extremely rare.

"We only hear reports of those from breeders. They are usually not found in the wild population," Taylor said. "Maybe one for every two or three hundred million butterflies in the wild is white."

He says the fact that they discovered white monarchs in their lab will present some nice experiments and learning opportunities for students.

"The interesting thing about having something like this that`s so rare show up in a culture is it`s an opportunity to breed a pure stock," said Taylor.

Taylor says uncommon discoveries like this help researchers find differences between the uncommon form and normal form to get some answers.

"How are they different in metabolism, how are they different in pigment formation, how are they different behaviorally," Taylor added.

"Really I still haven`t fully grasped how unique it really is, and how amazing it is that we managed to raise them," Rankin said. "I`m curious to see how far it all goes, and what actually comes out of it."

Students and staff say they will continue researching the differences between the typical monarch and the white monarch. Taylor says this puts the KU researchers in rare company. They're one of only two known groups in the world to study the butterflies.