Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Deciphering butterflies' designer colors: Findings could inspire new hue-changing materials

Date:
July 17, 2013
Source:
The Optical Society
Summary:
Scientists have uncovered how subtle differences in the tiny crystals of butterfly wings create stunningly varied patterns of color even among closely related species. The discovery could lead to new coatings for manufactured materials that could change color by design, if researchers can figure out how to replicate the wings' light-manipulating properties.

Scanning electron microscope image showing seven-layer cuticle structure of a cross-section of Papilio blumei wing scale at almost 60,000x magnification. This structure appears green when viewed from above, and blue from a sharp angle.
Credit: Image courtesy H.L. Tam and K. W. Cheah, Hong Kong Baptist University.

Butterfly wings can do remarkable things with light, and humans are still trying to learn from them. Physicists have now uncovered how subtle differences in the tiny crystals of butterfly wings create stunningly varied patterns of color even among closely related species. The discovery, reported today in the Optical Society's (OSA) open-access journal Optical Materials Express, could lead to new coatings for manufactured materials that could change color by design, if researchers can figure out how to replicate the wings' light-manipulating properties.

"It was very exciting to see how nature can create a nanostructure that's not easy to replicate by humans," says Kok Wai Cheah, a physicist at Hong Kong Baptist University. He and his colleagues are the first to investigate the color-creating mechanisms in multiple butterfly species within a single genus.

The three tropical butterflies the researchers studied all display iridescence, a property of materials that change color depending on the viewing angle, but they do so with different colors. Papilio ulysses, the Ulysses butterfly or blue mountain swallowtail, appears bluish green when seen from above. Its cousin Papilio peranthus, by contrast, looks yellowish green from above, and a third relative, Papilio blumei, the green swallowtail, is more of a deep green. All three shift toward deep blue when viewed from a sharp angle.

To probe the physics behind the wings' structural colorations, the scientists examined a cross-section of each species' wing under a scanning electron microscope. The team found that the wings contain specialized architectures in which solid flat layers known as cuticles alternate with thin "air" layers known as laminae. The laminae aren't entirely empty space, however; they also contain pillars of the cuticle material, which gives the wing a repeating crystal-like structure. This structure is similar to what is known as a Bragg reflector -- essentially a multi-layered mirror that reflects only certain wavelengths, or colors, of light.

The researchers then measured the light spectrum reflected from the wing at different angles, using a technique called angle-resolved reflection spectroscopy. They found that the varying colors of the three species' wings arise from slight differences in crystal parameters. P. ulysses has seven cuticle layers, for example, while P. peranthus has eight. The thicknesses of the cuticles and air layers also vary between species. Cheah notes that even though these differences are slight, they have a major effect on the butterflies' appearance. "It all comes from the fact the wing structure has subtle differences between these three types of butterfly," he says.

Cheah thinks the lessons learned from Papilio butterfly wings could lead to designer materials that wouldn't need to be painted or dyed one specific color. The same article of clothing, for example, could reflect a subdued color during the workday, and a more ostentatious one at night. "You would just tune your structure to produce the color you want," says Cheah.

The team next plans to investigate color-generating mechanisms in other insect body structures, such as the metallic effect produced by iridescent beetle shells.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Optical Society. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. H. L. Tam, K. W. Cheah, David T. P. Goh, Joseph K. L. Goh. Iridescence and nano-structure differences in Papilio butterflies. Optical Materials Express, 2013; 3 (8): 1087 DOI: 10.1364/OME.3.001087

Cite This Page:

The Optical Society. "Deciphering butterflies' designer colors: Findings could inspire new hue-changing materials." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 July 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130717105936.htm>.
The Optical Society. (2013, July 17). Deciphering butterflies' designer colors: Findings could inspire new hue-changing materials. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130717105936.htm
The Optical Society. "Deciphering butterflies' designer colors: Findings could inspire new hue-changing materials." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/07/130717105936.htm (accessed July 24, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Dogs Appear To Become Jealous Of Owners' Attention

Newsy (July 23, 2014) A U.C. San Diego researcher says jealousy isn't just a human trait, and dogs aren't the best at sharing the attention of humans with other dogs. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Professor Creates Site Revealing Where People's Cats Live

Newsy (July 23, 2014) ​It's called I Know Where Your Cat Lives, and you can keep hitting the "Random Cat" button to find more real cats all over the world. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Stone Fruit Listeria Scare Causes Sweeping Recall

Newsy (July 22, 2014) The Wawona Packing Company has issued a voluntary recall on the stone fruit it distributes due to a possible Listeria outbreak. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

Michigan Plant's Goal: Flower and Die

AP (July 22, 2014) An 80-year-old agave plant, which is blooming for the first and only time at a University of Michigan conservatory, will die when it's done (July 22) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins