Like Katy Perry’s halftime star ride, some bugs just beg to be seen. Some flash and glimmer to attract mates while others show off to tell you to back off. Whether they’re blending in with a little bling or wowing with disco-ball bodies, insects use amazing engineering feats to play tricks with light. Here’s how they do it:
Some insects take reflecting to the next level with added features. Morpho butterflies’ tree-shaped structures work like LEDs. They trap light and force it back out in a straight line. Morphos are even more impressive than LEDs, reflecting 80 percent of the light that enters their wings.
Another type of reflector uses dishes that reflect light with a colorful effect. Different dish thicknesses, widths, and depths result in different color and shine outcomes. These structures not only produce regal brown in the bronzed tiger beetle but also help the gaudy Madagascar sunset moth strut her stuff.
Cooler still: Some insects use their powers of reflection to hide from selected audiences. The green hairstreak butterfly’s wings reflect polarized light to its mates while camouflaging its wings against new spring leaves.
Some Morpho butterflies flash shiny blue or green signals to mates from the sidelines while appearing dull and brown to hungry birds from above. Other insects never want to be seen and shine their way into the background. Bronzed tiger beetles blend into their sandy habitat, chrysalises reflect their surroundings to appear invisible, and jewel scarab beetles look like water droplets twinkling in the rain forest.
Written by Nancy Miorelli and illustrated by Maya U Schueller-Elmes.
Nancy Miorelli is a recent graduate from the University of Georgia with her Master’s degree in Entomology. She has a borderline unhealthy obsession with insects, and if you have any bug questions, you can shoot them over to her blog, Ask an Entomologist (AskEntomologists.WordPress.com).
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