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The Kid Should See This

Why are Glasswing Butterfly wings clear?

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Glasswing butterflies aren’t made of glass, but their transparent wings help them blend with their surroundings, protecting them from predators. This Deep Look episode from KQED takes the time to observe the life cycle of glasswing butterflies (Greta oto), as well as the special nanopillars responsible for their non-reflecting wings.

glasswing butterfly on note paper
While camouflage is common in nature, actual attempts at invisibility are rare. “Glasswings excel at being dull, and that helps them hide in plain sight.”

File this video under biomimicry. From

By better understanding how these butterflies reduce glare, [Nipam Patel Lab doctoral candidate] Aaron Pomerantz and the other researchers hope that technologies might arise to increase the efficiency of solar panels by reducing the amount of light that bounces off the surface of the panel before it can be turned into electricity.

“Nature’s already figured out solutions to many of the problems that we have today,” he said.

More from Pomerantz’s site

So, what’s the deal Glasswings? Are you transparent to go unseen? Are you bright to show off warning colors? Perhaps a bit of both? I think it’d be interesting if the dual nature serves to avoid a certain kind of predator under reflected light. Another possibility is that they’re showing off ultraviolet colors as warnings, which would be invisible to us, but clear as day to other animals such as birds, many of which contain opsins in their eyes capable of detecting UV. Either way, they’re a beautiful group of butterflies and it’s a beautiful scientific mystery to (attempt to) solve the evolution and development of transparency.

glasswing butterfly
Related reading from 2018: Butterfly wings inspire light-manipulating surface for medical implants.

Next, watch Deep Look’s What Gives the Morpho Butterfly Its Magnificent Blue?

Plus, watch another butterfly wing video with Pomerantz: Inside a chrysalis: ‘Painting’ butterfly wings with CRISPR.

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