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Nymphalini Rafinesque 1815

Niklas Wahlberg and Andrew V. Z. Brower
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taxon links [up-->]Pycina zamba [up-->]Colobura [up-->]Mynes [up-->]Hypanartia [up-->]Aglais [up-->]Araschnia [up-->]Kaniska [up-->]Tigridia [up-->]Antanartia [up-->]Vanessa [up-->]Polygonia [up-->]Smyrna [up-->]Nymphalis [up-->]Symbrenthia Phylogenetic position of group is uncertain[down<--]Nymphalinae Interpreting the tree
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The consensus tree above shows all the stable and robust clades in Nymphalini from Wahlberg et al. (2005).
Containing group: Nymphalinae


Nymphalini contains about 100 species, many of which are well-known by everybody, such as the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), the Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and the Tortoiseshells (Aglais). Species in temperate regions tend to hibernate as adults, and are thus among the first butterflies to be seen in Spring. The group has been the subject of intensive ecological and evolutionary studies, especially the genus Polygonia. Species of Nymphalini are found through out the world, even on remote oceanic islands such as Hawai'i.

Discussion of Phylogenetic Relationships

The phylogenetic relationships of Nymphalini have been studied intensively since 2000, although the emphasis has been on the Nymphalis-group (including Nymphalis, Kaniska, Polygonia and Aglais). The most comprehensive study so far has been done by Wahlberg et al. (2005), who included 46 species from almost all genera (the putative Nymphalini Pycina was not included). Wahlberg et al. (2005) showed that the genera Colobura, Tigridia and Smyrna should be included in the tribe Nymphalini (they were previously placed in Coeini). Colobura and Tigridia are clearly sister genera and together they are sister to the rest of Nymphalini. The position of Smyrna is not clear at the moment, it may be sister to the rest of Nymphalini (to the exclusion of Colobura and Tirgridia; Wahlberg et al. 2005) or it may be sister to Colobura , Tigridia (Wahlberg 2006). The remaining genera form a strongly supported monophyletic group based on the DNA sequences of three genes (Wahlberg et al. 2005). Within this group, Symbrenthia, Mynes and Araschnia form a monophyletic group, but the relationships of these three genera are not clear at the moment (Fric et al. 2004, Wahlberg et al. 2005), with Fric et al. (2004) suggesting that Mynes is within Symbrenthia, while Wahlberg et al. (2005) place Mynes as sister to Araschnia. The lack of resolution is possibly due to the quick divergence of the ancestor into three lineages (Wahlberg 2006).

The positions of Antanartia, Vanessa and Hypanartia are also not clear, with Wahlberg et al. (2005) placing Antanartia as sister to the other genera, and Hypanartia and Vanessa as sister to each other. Traditionally, Antanartia and Hypanartia have been considered to be sister genera, and indeed further unpublished molecular data is indicating that this may be the case (N. Wahlberg, unpublished).

The relationships of the Nymphalis-group genera have been the focus of several studies (Nylin et al. 2001, Wahlberg and Nylin 2003, Weingartner et al. 2006). It is clear that the genus Aglais is sister to the other genera, with strong support from both molecules and morphology. The position of Kaniska is not clear, with molecules placing it as sister to Nymphalis with weak support and morphology placing it as sister to Polygonia, also with weak support. Kaniska was synonymized with Polygonia by Wahlberg and Nylin (2003), however, the unclear position of Kaniska suggests that it should be retained as a genus of its own, despite having just a single species in it.


Fric, Z., M. Konvicka, and J. Zrzavż. 2004. Red & black or black & white? Phylogeny of the Araschnia butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae) and evolution of seasonal polyphenism. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 17:265-278.

Nylin, S., K. Nyblom, F. Ronquist, N. Janz, J. Belicek, and M. KšllersjŲ. 2001. Phylogeny of Polygonia, Nymphalis and related butterflies (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae): a total-evidence analysis. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 132:441-468.

Wahlberg, N. 2006. That awkward age for butterflies: insights from the age of the butterfly subfamily Nymphalinae. Systematic Biology 55:703-714.

Wahlberg, N., A. V. Z. Brower, and S. Nylin. 2005. Phylogenetic relationships and historical biogeography of tribes and genera in the subfamily Nymphalinae (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 86:227-251.

Wahlberg, N., and S. Nylin. 2003. Morphology versus molecules: resolution of the positions of Nymphalis, Polygonia and related genera (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). Cladistics 19:213-223.

Wahlberg, N., Weingartner, E., Warren, A. D. & Nylin, S. 2009 Timing major conflict between mitochondrial and nuclear genes in species relationships of Polygonia butterflies (Nymphalidae: Nymphlalini). BMC Evolutionary Biology 9, 92.

Title Illustrations
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Scientific Name Aglais io
Location UK
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Behavior feeding on Buddleia
Source Peacock butterfly (Inachis io)
Source Collection Flickr
Image Use creative commons This media file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License - Version 2.0.
Copyright © 2003 wolf 359
Scientific Name Vanessa cardui
Comments at rest on leaves of apple
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Life Cycle Stage adult
Source Collection Bugwood Network/Forestry Images
Copyright © William M. Ciesla, Forest Health Management International
Scientific Name Kaniska canace
Location Taiwan
Specimen Condition Live Specimen
Source IMG_5629ac1
Source Collection Flickr
Image Use creative commons This media file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License - Version 2.0.
Copyright © 2006 leemt2
About This Page

Niklas Wahlberg
University of Turku, Finland

Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, USA

Correspondence regarding this page should be directed to Niklas Wahlberg at and Andrew V. Z. Brower at

Page: Tree of Life Nymphalini Rafinesque 1815. Authored by Niklas Wahlberg and Andrew V. Z. Brower. The TEXT of this page is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License - Version 3.0. Note that images and other media featured on this page are each governed by their own license, and they may or may not be available for reuse. Click on an image or a media link to access the media data window, which provides the relevant licensing information. For the general terms and conditions of ToL material reuse and redistribution, please see the Tree of Life Copyright Policies.

Citing this page:

Wahlberg, Niklas and Andrew V. Z. Brower. 2009. Nymphalini Rafinesque 1815. Version 04 June 2009 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Nymphalini/70222/2009.06.04 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/

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