Have you ever met a Morpho in metamorphosis? You should look closely at what hatches out.

The Morpho is a jewel among butterflies, with its gracefully contoured, iridescent blue wings flashing in the breeze. Familiar from the cover of Illustra’s film Metamorphosis, this species exhibits additional intelligent designs the film didn’t have time to discuss.

Their brilliant color comes not from pigments but from precisely aligned structures in the wing scales that play tricks with light, producing what physicists call “structural color.” Certain colors are canceled out, and others reinforced, by the arrangement of “photonic crystals” that resemble tiny trees made of biomolecule chitin.

Engineers have already mimicked the iridescence by creating photonic crystals of their own. But there’s more. The structures on Morpho butterfly wings also absorb heat, repel water, and control the flow of vapors. The Morpho is a treasure house of design ideas for biomimetics projects, as research news from the University of Exeter reveals. From fabrics to cosmetics to sensors, all kinds of innovations are being inspired by this one genus of butterfly:

Now research by the University of Exeter, in collaboration with General Electric (GE) Global Research Centre, University at Albany and Air Force Research Laboratory, and funded by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has discovered that the physical structure and surface chemistry of the Morpho butterfly’s wings provides surprising properties that could offer a variety of applications ranging from photonic security tags to self cleaning surfaces and protective clothing and to industrial sensors. (Emphasis added.)

A paper in PNAS describes a “surface polarity gradient” the team found in the wing scales that provides “selective vapor response.” This set the authors’ minds whizzing with possibilities: “This biological pattern design may be applied to numerous technological applications ranging from security tags to self-cleaning surfaces, gas separators, protective clothing, and sensors.” This paper adds to the bio-inspired work by Radislav Potyrailo and his team at G.E. labs reported here last year (“G.E. Brings Life to Good Things”).

Other labs are studying the Morpho butterfly carefully. At the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, Eijiro Miyako’s team has hybridized a rare species of Morpho with human technology, New Scientist reports. They coated the wing with carbon nanotubes that self-assembled onto the biological pattern, inspiring more possibilities:

But their creation isn’t just inspired by nature. It is a real hybrid of butterfly wings fused with nanocarbon that imitates traits found in nature but is also tough to reproduce through technology alone. It could potentially play a role in digital diagnosis of disease, power flexible microscopic photovoltaic cells or even help create soft wearable electronics.

Notice how the butterfly exhibits traits that humans find “tough to reproduce through technology alone.” Doesn’t that suggest a superior designing intelligence made the butterfly? Miyako’s paper is published by ACS Nano (for summary, see here).

We don’t want to shortchange other butterflies. The “Green Hairstreak” butterfly, ranging from the UK to Siberia, has inspired another unique technology, according Swinburne University of Technology. Engineers in Australia and Germany created a miniature polarized beamsplitter from its wings, able to split, for the first time, circularly polarized light.

The design for this crystal was inspired by the Callophrys Rubi butterfly, also known as the Green Hairstreak. This butterfly has 3D nano-structures within its wings which give them their vibrant green colour. Other insects also have nano-structures that provide colour, but the Callophrys Rubi has one important difference.

“This butterfly’s wing contains an immense array of interconnected nano-scale coiled springs that form a unique optical material. We used this concept to develop our photonic crystal device,” Swinburne PhD graduate, Dr Mark Turner, said.

With this invention, they can steer light in nano-photonic devices used in telecommunications. “It has the potential to become a useful component for developing integrated photonic circuits that play an important role in optical communications, imaging, computing and sensing.”

All this from just two kinds of butterflies. With up to 20,000 species known, there should plenty to keep engineers busy into the future (to say nothing of biomimetics projects coming from the study of geckos, spider webs, oysters, lotus leaves, elephant trunks, Venus flytraps, and much more).

A researcher from University of Exeter summed up by saying:

By using design ideas from nature we are able to work towards the development of applications in a range of different technologies.

One may surmise that they wouldn’t work so enthusiastically if these “ideas from nature” were not, in fact, intelligently designed.

From: Evolution News


Internal reviews

The first question to be evaluated in this paper is that Evolution News is not a evolution site, by contrast, is a creationist site that advocates specific theological concepts. Second, the idea that the iridescent Morpho butterfly wings are specially designed by a intelligent mind is a purely anecdotal, ie informal statement. In no time the text presented any scientific article reviewed and accepted by a competent journal that supports the idea by him. Indeed, the ​​intelligent designer (and creationism) is rejected as a science, it is assigned the status of pseudoscience.

The consensus of the scientific community is that intelligent creation is not science (Cordelia , 2007) , but in fact pseudoscience, in other words, teleology. The National Academy of Sciences of the United States has stated that “creationism, intelligent design, and other claims of supernatural intervention in the origin of life ” are not science because they can not be tested by scientific methods (National Academy of Sciences, 1999). The Association of Teachers of Sciences of the United States and the American Association for the Advancement of Science classified as pseudoscience (Editorial Nature Methods 2007 & Mark Greener , 2007). The Brazilian Society of Genetics officially reported that there is no scientific support in intelligent design and other creationist theories, explaining that this position is consensus in the scientific community (Brazilian Society of Genetics, 2012).

The second question is, today we known a lot of the origin of Morpho butterflies and on the evolutionary origin of the iridescent scales, all under a natural perspective.

Its origin is accompanied by Andean training, which has the greatest diversity of species, the eastern coast of the range. According to the most accepted theory, its origin would have been between 55 and 30 million years and its rate increased with diversity was consolidating watching geodynamics and expansion of the Andes and the Amazon forest refuge even in Pleitoceno (Blandin & Purser, 2013) . A study led by Penz et al (2012 ) compiled morphological data, coloring, behavioral traits and DNA sequence to eight markers (one mitochondrial and seven nuclear ) to reassess the phylogenetic relationships and estimate divergence times of the group. The conclusion is that the genus Morpho have a monophyletic origin and early divergence between M. marcus and its sister species M. eugenics. The analyzes of the combined data indicate that Morpho is comprised of four subtypes, each of which includes one or more subgenera. Thus, the ancestral Morpho probably arose during the Oligocene, but the rate of diversification appears to have occurred during the late Miocene . Statistical analyzes suggest that eastern Andean east as the ancestral area for Morpho, and the Atlantic Forest of South America was colonized repeatedly.

Therefore, the origin of the Morpho butterfly has scientific support as regards their origin in natural processes, and does not support the supernatural, or teleological origin.

To respect the iridescent scales, most species of the genus Morpho are colored in metallic shades of blue, violet and green. This staining can occur in two forms, which show the difference in two major clades within the genus group. In Marcus clade formed by Morpho marcus and Morpho eugenia the iridescence occurs by overlapping scales. In other strains occurs by the specialization of microstructures on the dorsal surface of the wings that promotes iridescence (Blandin & Purser, 2013). This means that older broths exhibit characteristics of rudimentary iridescence, which shows natural processes acting on the scales. These colors are not the result of pigmentation but the reflection of light by the scales promoted leading to effects that depend on both wavelength and angle of incidence. Thus, the colors produced vary with viewing angle, however, they are surprisingly uniform due to structural tetrahedral arrangement of the diffraction scale or overlapping layers of cells. This structure can be compared to a photonic crystal. The lamellar structure of their wing scales has been studied as a model for the development of biomimetic fabrics, dyes and even paints without tech anti – counterfeiting money. The ventral side is decorated with patches of brownish Ocellar appearance and in some species there are white details. In some species, such as M. godarti, the dorsal lamellae are so thin that you can see the ocellar stains from the ventral side. Although not all Morphos have iridescent coloration, they all have ocelli. In most species only the males are colorful, supporting the theory that the coloring is used to intrassexual communication between males, or sexual dichromatism. The lamellae reflect about 70 % of the light falling on them, including any ultraviolet . Morpho butterfly ‘s eyes are highly sensitive to UV light and hence, males are able to see each other at large distances. Some species of South America are visible to the human eye up to a mile away (Vukusic et al, 1999). The conspicuous coloration may be a case of Müllerian mimicry, or may be “aposematismo of persecution.” Blue Morpho butterfly wings are huge relative to the size of your body, resulting in a slow flight, creating a pattern of specific, bouncy flight. The effect is that the bright blue flashing like a beacon due to the flapping of wings. This makes it difficult to track a bird his flight. If attacked in flight, slow pattern changes instantly in evasive maneuvers diving, resting with closed wings on a dark substrate. The iridescence is not an exclusive coloring Morpho butterflies. In fact, males are iridescent butterfly Myscelia Orsis, the moth Urania leilus also features iridescent. The morpho butterflies are active during the morning and dusk. They are preyed by birds like Momotus momota, which curiously has an iridescent bright blue crest with a very similar tone with the wings of M. godarti.

The answer to the origin of the iridescent scales was described in 1999 by Vukusic et al, in which he highlights the evolutionary mechanisms that led to the origin of this type of staining. Intrasexual communication between males, or instead of intersex interspecies communication appears as the main selective agent responsible for the bright coloration of male butterflies. Experimental evidence indicates that not only are men attracted to visual stimuli, but they can be repelled from long distances by visual stimuli that resemble other males, since Morpho butterflies are territorial it is extremely plausible.

Bright coloring on the wings seem to have the ability to serve as an agonist device that is used to threat (Hingston 1933) and intimidation of rivals for prime locations (Shields 1968). In male butterflies she has developed and promoted the visibility in light or while resting with outspread wings. Some pigmentary butterfly colors do not appear to human eyes. Selective pressures on these species have caused the evolution of a large number of multi that are properly sized to produce this effect reflectivity. The structure allows the color tone change of orientation with the wing (Vukusic et al, 1999).

The studies also support the hypothesis that natural selection acts differently in the shape of wings of male and female Morpho, and indicate that the transition to the canopy alone can not explain the diversity of forms in Morpho wing suggesting other evolutionary mechanisms. This study provides a starting point for characterizing the evolution of butterfly wing morphology in the context of habitat selection and flight behavior. Furthermore, these observations suggest that the ability to exploit canopy and understory species in other insects can help to understand the effects of habitat destruction and better understand biological diversity (Devries et al, 2010)

Therefore, it is very likely that the main objective of iridescence is a long-range communication.

The spectral sensitivity in the eyes of Morpho indicates the interpretation of UV components reflected from other wings of Morpho, and certainly is evidence for its evolution (Silberglied 1984). The existence of reflectors and interference filters tapetum the eyes of Morpho butterflies adjusting the contrast of colors through a narrow spectral band (Ribi 1980). The species of photoreceptors in the eye exhibit a trichromatic system, and seems to have a maximum response blue staining (Vukusic et al, 1999).

This does not exclusive of Morpho butterflies. The butterfly Heliconius erato can see from the UV light spectrum of 440 – 640nm. His eye contains three visual pigments, rhodopsins which are responsible for long wave lengths and blue (LWRh) and opsin. The butterfly H. erato has a second UV opsin mRNA product of a process of gene duplication .

The functional diversification of visual pigments sensitive to UV rays may help explain why the yellow pigments of Heliconius wing are so colorful in the UV range compared to the yellow pigments of relatives without duplication of opsin (Briscoe et al, 2009) . This means that the color, despite being beautiful to our eyes is much more biologically functional, with regard to survivability or achievement of females than whim to be beautiful in our eyes. Thus, there is no reason, or some scientific backing to suppose teleological aspects scales and wings of butterflies.

Victor Rossetti

Keywords: Rossetti, NetNature, butterflies, Morpho, iridescence, Scales, Origin, Evolution, Intelligent Designer, Pseudoscience.



Dean, Cordelia. “Scientists Feel Miscast in Film on Life’s Origin“, The New York Times, September 27, 2007. Página visitada em 2007-09-28.

Nature Methods Editorial. (2007). “An intelligently designed response”. Nat. Methods 4(12): 983

Mark Greener. (2007). “Taking on creationism. Which arguments and evidence counter pseudoscience?”. EMBO Reports 8 (12): 1107–1109

National Academy of Sciences, 1999 Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences, Second Edition

SBG – SOCIEDADE BRASILEIRA DE GENÉ (2012 [last update]). Página visitada em 8 de julho de 2012.

Blandin P. & Purser B. 2013. Evolution and diversification of Neotropical butterflies: Insights from the biogeography and phylogeny of the genus Morpho Fabricius, 1807 (Nymphalidae: Morphinae), with a review of the geodynamics of South America. Tropical Lepidoptera Research, 23(2): 62-85.

Vukusic, J.R. Sambles, C.R. Lawrence, and R.J. Wootton (1999). “Quantified interference and diffraction in single Morpho butterfly scales”Proceedings of the Royal Society B 266 (1427): 1403–11

Adriana D. Briscoea,1, Seth M. Bybeea, Gary D. Bernardb, Furong Yuana, Marilou P. Sison-Mangusa, Robert D. Reeda, Andrew D. Warrenc,d, Jorge Llorente-Bousquetsc, and Chuan-Chin Chiao. Positive selection of a duplicated UV-sensitive visual  pigment coincides with wing pigment evolution in Heliconius butterflies. PNAS Early Edition. December 22, 2009.

Hingston, R. W. G. 1933 The meaning of animal colour and adornment. London: Edward Arnold & Co.

Shields, O.1968 Hilltopping. J. Res. Lepid. 6, 69^78.

Silberglied, R. E. 1984. Visual communication and sexual selection among butterflies. In The biology of butter£ies (ed. R. I. Vane-Wright & P. E. Ackery), pp. 207^223. Symposium of the Royal Society of London, no.11. London: Academic Press.

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Devries PJ, Penz CM, Hill RI. Vertical distribution, flight behaviour and evolution of wing morphology in Morpho butterflies. J Anim Ecol. 2010 Sep;79(5):1077-85


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