Journal: Science Advances
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Ancient clues on butterfly hues
© Darrell Gulin/Getty
The colours of prehistoric butterflies have been reconstructed thanks to fossil wing flakes that date back 200 million years.
Microscopic structures on the surface of butterfly wings produce unique colours because the different shapes scatter light at different wavelengths. The evolution of these ‘structural colours’, which are more vibrant than pigment-based patterns, in insects is not well understood. A team including researchers from Ireland’s University College Cork studied the fossilized wings of six Jurassic butterflies from Europe and Asia. The team discovered they were made of two layers of scales, similar to some moth species today. The team modelled how these structures would reflect light to reconstruct their approximate colour. They found that a specimen from Germany scattered light in a similar way to the shimmery gold patches seen on the wings of some modern-day moths.
This could be the earliest evidence of structural colours in insects, and suggests that the double layer of scales could be an original feature of butterflies and moths.
- Science Advances 4, e1700988 (2018). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1700988