Bling wing

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The Mada­gas­can sun­set moth’s wings are cov­ered with iri­des­cent scales that ap­pear to glim­mer in the light. Un­like most moth species, this one is ac­tive dur­ing the day. Its colours warn preda­tors that it is poi­sonous and not worth their trou­ble.

The moth’s scales, seen here at 20x mag­ni­fi­ca­tion, are es­sen­tially mod­i­fied hairs. The colour comes not from pig­ments, but from two clever ways in which the scales ma­nip­u­late light.

First, the scales are made of al­ter­nat­ing lay­ers of cu­ti­cle ma­te­rial and air. Light waves re­flected off these lay­ers in­ter­act with each other, and the num­ber of lay­ers in the scales varies, so dif­fer­ent wave­lengths are re­flected more strongly at dif­fer­ent points, cre­at­ing these awe­some colours.

Sec­ond, the curved shape of the scales causes light to be re­flected from scale to scale, en­hanc­ing the over­all ef­fect. NIKON SMALL WORLD 2018

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