Never before have we had the luxury of choosing a continent, picking a large phylogenetic group of animals, and obtaining genomic data for its every species. Here, we sequence all 845 species of butterflies recorded from North America north of Mexico. Our comprehensive approach reveals the pattern of diversification and adaptation occurring in this phylogenetic lineage as it has spread over the continent, which cannot be seen on a sample of selected species. We observe bursts of diversification that generated taxonomic ranks: subfamily, tribe, subtribe, genus, and species. The older burst around 70 Mya resulted in the butterfly subfamilies, with the major evolutionary inventions being unique phenotypic traits shaped by high positive selection and gene duplications. The recent burst around 5 Mya is caused by explosive radiation in diverse butterfly groups associated with diversification in transcription and mRNA regulation, morphogenesis, and mate selection. Rapid radiation correlates with more frequent introgression of speciation-promoting and beneficial genes among radiating species. Radiation and extinction patterns over the last 100 million years suggest the following general model of animal evolution. A population spreads over the land, adapts to various conditions through mutations, and diversifies into several species. Occasional hybridization between these species results in accumulation of beneficial alleles in one, which eventually survives, while others become extinct. Not only butterflies, but also the hominids may have followed this path.
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