Three Extraordinary Morphos
These three beautiful specimens from Brazil and Peru all have an astonishing range of colours depending on where you view them from – as you move in front of the display they show deep blues, turquoises, eggshell grey, and a soft violet. You will never see such an incredible blue as Morpho zephyritis.
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 (they are colourless, as you can see when you angle it correctly). Morpho marcus tends more towards the metallic, stainless steel sheen, while M. didius is a deep tropical sea blue. M. aurora is so close to being colourless – until suddenly you hit an angle where it just throws out the most incredible electric blue.
Morphos have a very distinctive, slow, bouncy flight pattern due to the wing area being enormous relative to the body size. They are poisonous to predators due to toxins they sequestered from plants on which they fed as caterpillars. Adult males spend the mornings patrolling along the courses of forest streams and rivers. They are territorial and chase any rivals. Morphos typically live alone, excluding in the mating season.
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.
These butterflies have been prepared in the UK to museum standards and are 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). They are completely sealed inside the frame and will last for generations.