Biologists have explained the origin of iridescent structural coloration of insects

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — The hard shell of many insects shows a bright color due to the ordered microstructures on the surface. Light interacts in a complex way with it, usually giving the insect a metallic, iridescent sheen.

Such structural coloring can perform many useful functions: hide the animal from predators or, conversely, serve as a warning, attract potential partners, and so on.

The initial role of structural coloring, its origin and evolution has remained a mystery to this day. Recently, however, a large team of scientists from Ireland and Singapore managed to consider such microstructures on the remains of a pair of weevil beetles dated to the end of the Pleistocene period – about 13 thousand years ago.

The results of this work are presented in an article published in the journal Biology Letters.

Scientists obtained images of the samples using an electron microscope, and also performed X-ray diffraction analysis using synchrotron radiation. It was found that on the surface of the hard wings of these weevils “diamond-like” structures were already formed, which are known in some modern insects, giving them a bright blue-green iridescent color.

Judging by the fact that these structures have remained unchanged for tens of thousands of years – hundreds of thousands of generations of weevils – they must fulfill the same important function.

According to the authors of the study, its main task was and remains a camouflage against the background of dense green foliage – all the more so since their previous work also indicates this.

“It was only later that colors became more diverse and found new features,” said Professor Vinod Saranathan, who led the work, “as a signal to potential partners or a warning to predators.”


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