The rainbow wings of insects may actually mean something

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Turns out those rainbow-splashed colors that reflect off of insect wings- the ones I’ve been seeing for years and not thinking much of- may serve a communication function:

These extremely thin wings reflect vivid color patterns caused by thin film interference. The visibility of these patterns is affected by the way the insects display their wings against various backgrounds with different light properties. The specific color sequence displayed lacks pure red and matches the color vision of most insects, strongly suggesting that the biological significance of WIPs lies in visual signaling.

It also just so happens that I had a photo in my archives (above) perfectly illustrating the phenomenon. The reflections are visible against the dark background but not the light background.

(via Arthropoda)


source: Shevtsova, E., Hansson, C., Janzen, D., & Kjaerandsen, J. (2011). Stable structural color patterns displayed on transparent insect wings. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108 (2), 668-673 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1017393108

9 thoughts on “The rainbow wings of insects may actually mean something”

  1. One of my professors used to say that if a species sends signals for intraspecific communication, then a predator is likely adapted to see the signal as well – the next step here would be to see if predators use the colors to spot their next Dish o’ Diptera!

    1. I’m amused that Jerry’s reaction was identical to my own: “Aaaaaahhh!!! I’ve seen those patterns for years, but never found the curiosity to wonder about them!”

  2. Alex, do you have any detailed info about their wings’ inner structure? Is there a good SEM image of the wing structure which is responsible for the interference colours? Thank you in advance!

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