Discover the secrets of invisible animals from biologists

Evolution sometimes uses colors that don’t exist, from glasswing butterflies and vanishing octopuses.

This article originally appeared on Atlas Obscura. It is part of Climate Desk’s collaboration.

Aaron Pomerantz, a biologist, saw tiny, invisible jets zipping along the Peruvian rainforest trail while he was trekking. It took him eight hours to get there by boat. He said, “I was there trying to catch them,” and “these just changed direction.”

He was able to see clear-winged butterflies for the first time. These insects are native to Central and South American forests. They have an amazing camouflage method: they can be seen through or “glass” their wings, making them difficult to find in dense understory.

Pomerantz is the lead author of the Journal of Experimental Biology study that examined how clear wings form. It’s much harder for predators not to spot you if you have an invisible cloak. There are many transparent species in oceans, but it is much more common on land. This really brings up the issue of “What is it like to be transparent on Land?”

Pomerantz, his collaborators at Caltech, University of California Berkeley and the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole) studied the wings of the Greta 0_ species, otherwise known as the glasswing butterflies, during various stages of their pupal development. The microscopic scales can be modified in shape or density to create butterfly colors. An extra layer of tiny waxy pillars acts as an antiglare coating.

If it seems like a unique adaptation, it’s not. Pomerantz says that this adaptation has been modified many times. He notes that there are hundreds of species of moths and butterflies with glass wings. Though they represent only a small portion of the order Lepidoptera, they make up most of the rare instances of such transparency on land. Another example is the glass frog, which has varying levels of skin transparency.

Publited Sat, 4 Sep 2021 at 12:23:03 +0000

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