Yonggang Hu | David M. Linz | Armin P. Moczek


Understanding how novel complex traits originate is a foundational challenge in evolutionary biology. We investigated the origin of prothoracic horns in scarabaeine beetles, one of the most pronounced examples of secondary sexual traits in the animal kingdom. We show that prothoracic horns derive from bilateral source tissues; that diverse wing genes are functionally required for instructing this process; and that, in the absence of Hox input, prothoracic horn primordia transform to contribute to ectopic wings. Once induced, however, the transcriptional profile of prothoracic horns diverges markedly from that of wings and other wing serial homologs. Our results substantiate the serial homology between prothoracic horns and insects wings and suggest that other insect innovations may derive similarly from wing serial homologs and the concomitant establishment of structure-specific transcriptional landscapes.