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Nipam Patel : The Physics and Development of Butterfly Structural Colors

In butterflies and moths, wing scales provide the cellular basis for coloration. Many times these scales are filled with pigments providing colors such as black, brown, red, and yellow. In some cases, however, color is generated structurally, which is often the case for green and blue coloration. Optical physicists have done a remarkable job defining how wing nanostructures create structural color, but we know little about the developmental basis for creating the patterned nanostructures. I will describe our work to understand the developmental and cellular basis for scale formation and the generation of structural color, focusing on a group of butterflies known as the Achillides swallowtails. The scales of these butterflies use a combination of multilayer reflection and scale geometry to create a range of colors. Developmentally, the scale geometry appears to be controlled by cytoskeletal reorganization, and evolutionary changes in geometry appear to contribute to variation between species, between populations, and between seasonal variants.

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