Morpho cypris is without doubt the most striking butterfly I have ever seen. My heart was in my mouth when I prepared it, in case it was damaged at all. Brilliant blue, turquoise, violet or sometimes translucent depending on where you view it from. The cause of this range of colours is the same as the reason why they will never fade: the colours come from the refractive properties of the scales rather than from any pigmentation of the scales themselves (these are colourless, as you can see when you look at it from different angles).
It is a Neotropical species (this specimen from Colombia) that requires mature jungle canopy to flourish and the frequency of sightings and captures diminish rapidly with human intrusion and alteration of the jungle habitat. Morpho cypris is most frequently encountered along waterways, such as rivers and streams running through the jungle. It seems that these natural breaks in the canopy are appealing as flight paths, however, human interruption of the canopy seems to have an adverse effect. Males are quite belligerent and will actively chase most any large butterflies, (including Papilionids, Nymphalids and other Morpho species) which happen to “invade” the territory. The males spend much of the late morning and afternoon patrolling home ranges in search of females and little else is known of the adults’ behavior. Like other members of the genus, adults do not visit flowers, but rather seem to prefer fermenting fruit and sugary saps. It is assumed that most of their feeding occurs high in the canopy, as they are rarely taken at bait traps.
The refractive properties of the scales on the wings has been studied as a model in the development of biomimetic fabrics, dye-free paints, and anticounterfeit technology used in currency.
A brief bit of internet wisdom about refraction:
The microscopic scales covering the morphos’ wings reflect incident light repeatedly at successive layers, leading to interference effects that depend on both wavelength and angle of incidence/observance. Thus, the colours appear to vary with viewing angle, but they are actually surprisingly uniform, perhaps due to the tetrahedral (diamond-like) structural arrangement of the scales or diffraction from overlying cell layers. The wide-angle blue reflection property can be explained by exploring the nanostructures in the scales of the morpho butterfly wings. These optically active structures integrate three design principles leading to the wide-angle reflection: alternative lamellae layers, Christmas tree-like shape, and zigzag pattern of the ridges. The reflection spectrum is found to be broad (about 90 nm) for alternating layers and can be controlled by varying the design pattern. The Christmas tree-like pattern helps to reduce the directionality of the reflectance by creating an impedance matching for blue wavelengths. In addition, the zigzag pattern of ridges destroys the unwanted interference for other wavelengths in wide angle.
Morphos secrete a dark oil from their abdomens, which leaches out over the years and stains the wings. To prevent this spoiling the amazing colouring, the abdomen has been removed.
This butterfly has been prepared in the UK to museum standards and is displayed in a deep handmade shadowbox frame, mounted on white conservation-grade foam. The back of the frame is covered in really special Italian decorative paper, with a brass hook for hanging it on the wall (but it also stands perfectly on a mantlepiece or a table). It is completely sealed inside the frame and will last for generations.