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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Nov 24;106(47):19906-9. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0910229106. Epub 2009 Oct 30.

Caterpillars did not evolve from onychophorans by hybridogenesis.

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  • 1Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC, Canada.


The evolution and loss of distinctive larval forms in animal life cycles have produced complex patterns of similarity and difference among life-history stages and major animal lineages. One example of this similarity is the morphological forms of Onychophora (velvet worms) and the caterpillar-like larvae of some insects. Williamson [(2009) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:15786-15790] has made the astonishing and unfounded claim that the ancestors of the velvet worms directly gave rise to insect caterpillars via hybridization and that evidence of this ancient "larval transfer" could be found in comparisons among the genomes of extant onychophorans, insects with larvae, and insects without larvae. Williamson has made a series of predictions arising from his hypothesis and urged genomicists to test them. Here, we use data already in the literature to show these predictions to be false. Hybridogenesis between distantly related animals does not explain patterns of morphological and life-history evolution in general, and the genes and genomes of animals provide strong evidence against hybridization or larval transfer between a velvet worm and an insect in particular.

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