Illusions of Blue

See that cute little fellow in the top photo? It looks kinda plain doesn’t it? If you’re not careful, you’d almost mistake it for a moth.

butterfly2

It spends most of it’s time like this, with it’s wings folded, smartly taking full advantage of it’s camouflage. That is, until it takes flight or engages in territorial or mating behaviors, then….

BAM!

CC Image Courtesy of Thomas Bresson on Flickr
CC Image Courtesy of Thomas Bresson on Flickr

It let’s you know that it has a few secrets up it’s sleeve.

It’s not just the fact that this butterfly, commonly referred to as the morpho butterfly, has a colorful side that’s interesting. It’s that this color only appears to be blue. As it turns out, there’s not a single blue speck of pigment in those wings. They are actually made of microscopic scales that are stacked on top of each other in layers. These layers work together to reflect light that appears iridescent blue. 

The same is true for many other animals and insects, including humans. For example, when we see blue eyes, we’re seeing a similar kind of structural trickery that the morpho butterfly employs. Apparently, unlike some other colors, blue is difficult color for animals to manufacture through pigments, so nature is full of close approximations.

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One thought on “Illusions of Blue

  1. It’s like the blue of water – it isn’t really blue either. It is (partially) the depth that creates the illusion. Seems very similar if the layers of the scales create some kind of depth for the butterfly as well. Very interesting concept.

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