Many taxa of winged insects have independently lost the ability to fly and often possess reduced wings. Species exhibiting natural variation in wing morphology provide opportunities to investigate the genetics and developmental processes underlying the evolution of alternative wing morphs. Although many wing dimorphic species of beetles are known, the underlying mechanisms of variation are not well understood in this insect order. Here, we examine wing development of wild type and natural wingless morphs of the two-spot ladybird beetle, Adalia bipunctata. We show that both pairs of wings are distally truncated in the wingless adults. A laboratory population of the wingless morph displays heritable variation in the degree of wing truncation, reflecting reduced growth of the larval wing discs. The coexistence of variable wingless morphs supports the idea that typical monomorphic wingless insects may be the result of a gradual evolution of wing loss. Gene expression patterns in wing discs suggest that the conserved gene network controlling wing development in wild-type Adalia is disrupted in the dorsoventral patterning pathway in the wingless morphs. Previous research on several species of ant has revealed that the anteroposterior wing patterning pathway is disrupted in wingless workers. Future investigations should confirm whether interruptions in both taxa are limited to the patterning pathways found thus far, or whether there are also shared interruption points. Nevertheless, our results highlight that diverse mechanisms of development are likely to underlie the evolution of wingless insects.
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