Seeing Insects in a New Light

Science Photography is a buzz with a different way to look at small insects with clear wings.  The lucky discovery involved a pretty sophisticated technology: a black piece of paper.

For years entomologists have used white backgrounds to view tiny insects like wasps and flies.  When flashes of color on the wings were seen, it was assumed to be random much like the oil slick around a blown bubbles.  A Swedish team led by Elaterina Shevstova and Dan Janzen (an American naturalist) found the iridescent colors, which they call wing interference patterns, were more visible against dark backgrounds when the light strikes at certain angles.

So what’s the big deal?  Apparently the colorful patterns are one important way for insects to communicate.  They could be mating displays with females preferring the patterns of males from their own species much like the fancy plumage on male birds.   A whole world of beautiful hidden colors has finally come to light.

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