How the blue morpho butterfly inspires science

June 30, 2014, 1 p.m.

The brilliance of a blue morpho's wings go far beyond just a shimmering color

Butterflies are beautiful, this we can all agree upon. However, some butterflies are more than just a set of pretty wings. The blue morpho is a species with iridescent wings that has inspired scientists thanks to the unique structure of its wing scales and how they interact with light. Ask Nature explains it like this, "Many types of butterflies use light-interacting structures on their wing scales to produce color. The cuticle on the scales of these butterflys’ wings is composed of nano-sized, transparent, chitin-and-air layered structures. Rather than statically absorb and reflect certain light wavelengths as pigments and dyes do, these structures selectively cancel out certain colors through wavelength interference while reflecting others, depending on the exact structure and interspatial distance between diffracting layers. This system of producing color allows for the dynamic control of light flow and wavelength interaction, which butterflies rely upon for camouflage, thermoregulation, and signaling."

The way in which these scales interact with light has scientists looking at ways they can mimic the structure to solve problems in all sorts of different areas. Some of the many problems that have scientists turning to blue morphos include better technology to stop counterfeiting, high-performance electronic color displays for devices like e-readers and cell phones that use less energy, and creating brightly colored and iridescent textiles and cosmetics without using toxic heavy-metals or harmful manufacturing processes.

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Google+, and Facebook.