all blog now

July 12, 2023

What Do Butterflies Look Like Under a Microscope?

Many of us are mesmerized by the stunning metallic colors and delicate patterns on butterfly wings, but their microstructure can be even more captivating.

Linden Gledhill, a scientist, takes photos of butterfly wings with both standard camera lenses and microscope lenses, then shares his stunning photographs on Flickr. Each image is mesmerizing - featuring details that defy our imaginations!

The Wings

The shimmering metallic colors of butterfly wings are formed by an intricate arrangement of microscopic scales arranged in an intricate way, offering protection, stabilizing body temperatures and providing essential aerodynamic lift for flight. An ingenious method allowed scientists to peek inside a butterfly chrysalis and record in real time how its wings form scales from start to finish - according to Popular Science.

Morpho butterflies don't get their vivid blue wings from pigments in their tissues--instead, their shimmering hue comes from how light interacts with nanometer-sized structures called microribs on scale ridges called microribs (photographed above). Refractometry enhances this phenomenon further; when flying butterfly scales cling loosely to their surfaces like DVD discs and light is reflected off these ridges like DVD undersides; each wing contains billions of these ridges which reflect light like DVD undersides; when flying butterfly scales move independently creating labyrinthine structures known as gyroids (photographed above).

An effective way to quantitatively measure a butterfly's structural color can be accomplished by shining a collimated beam of light onto the sample and measuring its angle-dependent reflected or scattered light intensity with a scanning or spectrophotometer. Unfortunately, this requires using an elaborate ellipsoidal mirror, which may not always be possible within laboratory settings.

The Pupa

Once a caterpillar has grown and shed its outer exoskeleton several times, it enters a pupal stage called a chrysalis. Though from the outside this appears restful, its interior houses a great deal of metabolic activity as the insect undergoes radical modification to become the elegant winged adult it will eventually become.

Butterflies are beloved creatures known for their striking metallic colors, created by thousands of microscopic scales that cover their wings. A team from MIT recently devised a way to view into some chrysalises of butterflies to discover how these scales form, reports Popular Science.

Researchers employed a microscope to observe and record the real-time unfolding process of butterfly chrysalises using live imaging. Their observations indicate that each wing forms from an unfolding process that begins at the front edge near its forewing and proceeds backward along its entirety.

Ants, bees, and sawflies that have free appendages are classified as having exarate pupal forms; by comparison, some Lepidoptera, lower Diptera, Staphylinidae and chalcidoid Hymenoptera possess obtect pupae in which the legs, wings, proboscis and proboscis remain attached to their bodies in an obtect pupa; such a butterfly is known as decticous butterfly.

The Body

Before it can fly, a newly emerged butterfly must first spend time filling its delicate wings with blood and drying them off, which leaves it vulnerable to predators. These delicate wings also possess microscopic scales which provide structural coloration - the blue hue seen here comes from microstructures within its scales diffracting light like photonic crystals; their microscales can even be so thin that if touched accidentally against anything--even itself--they would easily rub off!

Gyroids, the tiny structures found on butterfly wings known as the hallmarks of shimmer, contribute to their vibrant hues. Scientists have now used an advanced microscope to document in real time how these gyroids form on a butterfly's wings according to Popular Science.

Butterflies consist of three primary parts--the head, thorax (chest or mid section), and abdomen (tail end). They have six legs and two antennae. Though some butterflies appear to only have four legs at times, this is actually because their first pair are reduced and tucked up tightly against their thorax in fuzz, helping reduce movement while making predators less noticeable. Like many insects, butterflies use color patterns and patterns in their environment to blend in more seamlessly while using pheromones to attract mates while communicating among species members of their species.

The Legs

Have you ever taken notice of butterfly legs under a microscope? While their wings may catch your attention, their legs can also provide insights into a butterfly's life cycle and evolution.

If you're searching for an engaging science classroom activity, try this activity. It will show students how to examine insects without harming them!

Viewed under high magnification, butterfly wings can be observed to form patterns which determine their color. Each scale consists of grid-like micro ribs and crossbars which diffuse light at various angles to produce an iridescent sheen on their surfaces and produce their characteristic iridescence.

Researchers used an electron microscope to examine how these ribs and crossbars produced their patterning effect, using Greta oto butterfly wing scales as examples of orderly rows with periodicity approximately equivalent to one thousandth of an inch. They discovered this periodicity through studying their structure under an electron microscope.

These findings led scientists to the conclusion that butterfly wings resemble photonic crystals, with periodicities giving each wing its iridescence. This knowledge could lead to functional materials like iridescent windows or waterproof textiles being developed - a finding published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.