blue morpho


Nature is filled with beauty and complexity, to the point that we can’t help but feel awestruck.  This time I will touch on the wings of the butterfly.  Butterflies are one of few animals that has an intense and diverse formation of both color and pattern on the surface of their wings.  Some stand out so much that they can be seen from half a mile away.



A Closer Look

Every butterfly has 2 pairs of wings with the structure made out of chitin. Each of these wings has a network of tubular veins that radiate form its base. The pattern formed by these veins is one criteria researches use to classify butterflies.

The membrane of the wings are transparent, however it is covered either partially are fully by tiny scales that give the butterfly its beautiful colours. If you have ever caught a butterfly you might have noticed dust like particles falling from its wings, these are actually scales; they vary in shape and size. Most times they will measure from around 0.050mm across ( 1/20 of a millimetre or 50µ) and 0.1mm in height. Some may appear hair like and be even longer in length.

morpho magnification we

magnification of the Morpho’s wings



Top of Morho’s Wings


Scale Magnification morpho

Scale Magnification


A few secrets about the butterfly’s wings

You may find that some wings of butterflies seem to change in color if you start to change your viewing angle. Why is this? This may be the cause of interference, refraction, diffraction and sometimes a combination of these rather than set pigments. This leads to an effect called iridescence as you may see in feathers of a peacock, film of oil on water or soap bubbles. A butterfly’s wings are made up of thin layers of protein called Chitin (Similar to what makes up your hair and nails). Above these are tiny scales that differ from specie to specie of butterflies. These scales are positioned in ways that give off the effects you normally observe.

jamaica Morpho butterfly

Jamaica Morpho butterfly

For example on the wings of the Green Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio blumei) rows of concave surfaces reflect light in various ways.  The center of each concavity reflects yellow-green light, while the edges reflect blue light. Also, light at the center of a concave surface is reflected directly, but light striking the sides first bounces through a surface of multiple layers, which amplifies and partially polarizes, or rotates, the light waves. The final mix is called structural color because of the complex way in which it is produced.


Swallowtail butterfly


Researchers tried to replicate this marvellous system but it took them about ten years to do a simplified replica! Professor Ullrich Steiner of Cambridge University’s Nanoscience Centre, comments “the astonishingly varied colour palette found in nature often surpasses the optical effects that can be generated by technological means.” This is truly amazing.




The following two tabs change content below.
My name is Robert Brown also known as “bobbysony” or just “bobby”. There are many words I could use to define myself but I prefer the short description of an average guy with an above average out-look on life. Read More at:
Categories: Nature