Friday, March 1, 2013

Butterfly under the Microscope

The butterfly is most active during the day and is an insect of the order Lepidoptera. The butterfly's life cycle consists of four parts: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Once butterflies reach the adult stage, they have four wings with tiny scales. These scales can be seen in the images below that were captured under a stereo dissecting microscope.

Butterfly wing, 100x magnification captured using the DCM2.1 microscope camera.
A butterfly's fore and hindwings are not hooked together, which allows the butterfly to fly more gracefully. After the butterfly emerges from its pupal stage it can not fly until the wings are unfolded.

Butterfly wing, 100x magnification under the HSZ6-TBL stereo zoom microscope.
A newly emerged butterfly needs to spend time inflating its wings with blood and letting them dry before it can first take flight. This wing-drying process takes anywhere from 1-3 hours, a time period that makes the butterfly quite vulnerable to predators.

Butterfly wing, 100x.
The color of butterfly wings is created by tiny scales. The blue color from this butterfly is created by the microstructure of the scales. This structural coloration is a result of coherent scattering of light by the photonic crystal nature of the scales. A butterfly's scales cling fairly loosely to the wing and come off easily without harming the butterfly.

A scanning electron microscope was used to capture the above image of an individual scale on a peacock feather at 1000x magnification. Image courtesy Wikipedia.