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Butterflies’ Scale Nano-Structures Are So Powerful That They Don’t Fade From Ultraviolet Sun Rays
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Butterflies’ Scale Nano-Structures Are So Powerful That They Don’t Fade From Ultraviolet Sun Rays

Interview With Expert
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There are about 17,500 species of butterflies in the world. Each one has a different shape and enchantingly unique wing coloration, but how do they get it?

Scientists from the University of Sheffield and the Central Laser Facility probably have found the answer. Recently there was a new study published in Nature Communications revealing that actin, a protein in butterflies’ scales, is crucial for the arrangement of butterflies’ colorful wing structures.

More info: Nature Communications

Scientists from the University of Sheffield and the Central Laser Facility have discovered that actin, a protein in butterflies’ scales, is crucial for the arrangement of the colorful structures

Image credits: Alias 0591

The scientists examined F-actin organization during wing scale development in the neotropical butterfly Heliconius sara

Image credits: Nature Communications

Image credits: Nature Communications

Image credits: Nature Communications

Using powerful high-resolution microscopes, the researchers watched as actin shifted during scale growth and color formation, showing actin as crucial for creating a butterfly’s colors, and it is likely a universal process. Furthermore, actin disturbance experiments at later developmental stages resulted in near total loss of structural color.

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“Actin is like a dressmaker, laying out and pinning the arrangement of these structures to shape the vibrant colors. Once the actin has finished its work, it departs the cell like the removal of pins in dressmaking,” explained Dr. Andrew Parnell, lead author of the study.

“Butterfly scale nanostructures are a powerful way in which to make long-lasting bright colors that don’t fade or become bleached by the ultraviolet rays of the sun. The museums of the world contain direct evidence of this,” he added.

Researchers have observed that if the actin structures were dismantled or too drastically altered, the colors faded before the eye

Image credits: John

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Унайзат Юшаева

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Image credits: Christopher Perani

By studying the mechanisms behind butterfly wing coloration, researchers hope to gain insights into much broader areas of cell structure formation, which would include potential applications in sensing and diagnostics that could be crucial for a whole bunch of technologies including medicine. Replicating these actin structures would also offer rapid and responsive solutions outside traditional laboratory-based approaches.

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“I find it fascinating that during metamorphosis, butterflies are able to produce these incredibly complicated structures that are so intricately patterned. Understanding how they do that and how it’s controlled by the machinery within the cell has given us new insights into how biological structures are formed more generally and how we might go about replicating those processes,” explained Dr. Nicola Nadeau, from the University of Sheffield’s School of Biosciences.

“As a microscopist, being part of this project has been incredibly exciting, we have visualized butterfly scales with an unprecedented level of detail. This research not only provides novel information on the tiny parts of these cells, but also constitutes a tool for other scientists interested in studying similar structures in other organisms,” added Dr. Esther Garcia, from STFC Central Laser Facility.

The new study creates opportunities for the development of innovative technologies inspired by nature’s own creations

Image credits: Georg Wietschorke

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Pixabay

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Image credits: Christopher Perani

Looking at the extreme close-ups of butterflies’ breathtaking tapestry of textures, I immediately thought of Christopher Perani. He is an extreme macro photographer who specializes in capturing images that blend technology, science, and art. I was truly excited and grateful when Chris found some time in his busy schedule for an interview with Bored Panda since his work is absolutely fascinating.

The photographer recently returned to the series called ‘Butterfly wings‘, venturing further into the hidden wonders of patterns and capturing more detailed images than ever before.

“My fascination with combining technology and art began in my youth, when I experimented with photographing water balloons using sound sensors to trigger the camera at the moment of popping or using lasers to capture the moment an object interrupted the beam,” said Chris.

“My interest in revealing moments invisible to the naked eye led me to photograph butterflies. While out in the woods, I could only glimpse the textures on their wings, but I yearned to delve deeper into these hidden worlds. This curiosity sparked my journey into extreme macro photography. I spent months developing my techniques and experimenting with various objects to uncover the subtle details of our world. Once I focused on butterflies, I was astounded by the intricate details of their wings and could hardly believe what I was seeing. From there, I dove headfirst into documenting these hidden worlds within butterfly wings and sharing them with the world to show that beauty is all around us, sometimes just requiring a closer look,” he added.

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Actin works like a dressmaker, laying out and pinning the arrangement of the structures to shape butterfly’s vibrant colors

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Asked about how the entire photography process looks, Chris explained that it all starts with examining a butterfly specimen with his eyes, searching for interesting colors or textures that will result in captivating images.

“Once I identify a section to photograph, I set up my camera, which has a 200mm lens with a 10x microscope objective attached. The camera is mounted on a rail system that automatically moves it. With the microscope objective attached, the depth of field is extremely shallow, focusing on only a few scales at a time,” he shared.

“To capture the photos, the lens must be moved no more than 3 microns per shot to achieve focus across the thickness of the subject. This results in approximately 300 photos for each small section. This process is repeated repeatedly to cover the desired section of the butterfly. When the photo is completed, thousands of exposures are combined into one image,” said Chris.

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What makes butterflies so special to him is their incredible diversity in colors and textures: “Whenever I look through the viewfinder and see the intricate details and vibrant hues of the butterflies, I am in awe of their innate beauty. As an extreme macro photographer, I find the hidden details and worlds within their wings truly mesmerizing.”

“Discovering the microscopic patterns and textures that are invisible to the naked eye is fascinating. Each butterfly wing is like a miniature universe, full of surprises and beauty waiting to be uncovered. This constant discovery reminds me that beauty is everywhere and requires a closer look to be truly appreciated. Every time I photograph a butterfly wing, I am reminded of the extraordinary complexity and elegance that exist in nature, and it renews my sense of wonder and appreciation for the natural world,” added Chris.

There are so many enchanting butterflies but the most unique one Chris has ever photographed was a Morpho butterfly, which is known for its iridescent blue on the top of the wings. “What I find most striking from a photographer’s perspective is how, as you move the light, the colors appear to change through the viewfinder. The colors can easily be manipulated into shades of blue depending on the light’s location. What fascinates me about Morphos is how the light interacts with the scales and how microscopic changes in the light can drastically alter the appearance of the butterfly,” explained the photographer.

Besides the fascinating insights into his work, Chris also shared some very special photos with Bored Panda’s readers: “I have shot about 100 butterflies in two months, and no one has seen any of these images,” he said, inviting us all to discover this colorful and unique macro world that is hidden to the naked eye.

The scientists were surprised by the dynamic and indispensable role actin plays in producing the vibrant colors found in butterflies’ scales

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Image credits: Christopher Perani

Butterfly wings are covered in as many as 200,000 tiny scales, similar to overlapping roof tiles, and most of us have seen these scales as the “dust” that rubs off onto fingertips or clothing. Serbian scientists found the scales of butterflies so unique that in 2015, they came up with the idea of the Teslagram where they used them as the next revolution in security coding.

While butterflies’ wing colors appear due to the nature of those scales they produce, it’s truly mesmerizing to discover that actin is the substance that is crucial there, thanks to the new study.

Astonishingly enough, their colors can survive harsh environments, such as strong, direct sunlight, as there are no pigments to get bleached or damaged. Therefore, understanding better the mechanisms behind butterflies’ coloration can definitely bring a wide range of opportunities for the development of innovative technologies, for instance, new kinds of sustainable paints and coatings.

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Eglė Tenikytė

Eglė Tenikytė

Author, BoredPanda staff

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Photographer and creative content creator with 10 years of experience, currently living in Portugal, inspired by the ocean and with a huge passion for classic sports cars 🏎🏁🌊✨

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Eglė Tenikytė

Eglė Tenikytė

Author, BoredPanda staff

Photographer and creative content creator with 10 years of experience, currently living in Portugal, inspired by the ocean and with a huge passion for classic sports cars 🏎🏁🌊✨

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multanocte avatar
egle-tenikyte avatar
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3 weeks ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Thank you, Multa Nocte ☺️ 🙏🏼✨ I was so happy to be able to share Christopher Perani's photography which is the entire different universe 🦋

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multanocte avatar
egle-tenikyte avatar
BoredPanda Staff
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3 weeks ago DotsCreated by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Thank you, Multa Nocte ☺️ 🙏🏼✨ I was so happy to be able to share Christopher Perani's photography which is the entire different universe 🦋

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