“This is the first time anyone has looked at genes to see how far these insects have traveled,” study coauthor Jessica Ware, a biologist at Rutgers University-Newark in New Jersey said in a statement. “If North American Pantala only bred with North American Pantala, and Japanese Pantala only bred with Japanese Pantala, we would expect to see that in genetic results that differed from each other. Because we don’t see that, it suggests the mixing of genes across vast geographic expanses.”
Ware and colleagues’ genetic work support the estimate that P. flavescens could be flying between 14,000 and 18,000 km every year to find suitable sites for mating, egg laying, and more. It also confirms the observation that P. flavescens is the only known insect to undertake transoceanic migrations, as they fly between Africa and Asia over the Indian Ocean.
“This is a significant study because it reveals for the first time that this globally distributed, migratory species should really be looked at as a single global panmictic population,” University of Alabama biologist John Abbott, who was not involved with the study, told Newsweek.