The Blue morpho lives in the tropical forests of Latin America. If I asked you, what colour are the wings? you would be forgiven for saying they are blue, but they are not blue. How is this so?


The human eye is 'tuned' to only see a very narrow range of the electro-magnetic spectrum. We refer to this narrow band, as the visible light spectrum. Everything outside this narrow band is invisible to the naked eye.  

When light is shone through a prism, the individual colours become visible. The simple children's rhyme 'Richard Of York Gained Battle In Vain' is an easy way of remembering the numerical order in which the colours are arranged.


The Blue Morpho Butterfly (Morpho peleides)


The angle of deviation is the angle made between the incident ray of light entering the first face of the prism and the refracted ray that emerges from the second face of the prism.

The order is determined by wavelength; starting with the lowest (slowest) frequency colour red, and ending in the highest (fastest) frequency colour ultraviolet. Each colour appears distinctly set apart from all the others due to each occupying it's own relative 'space'.


The black and white photograph below, is an electron scanning microscopic view of the teeth-like ridges of the wing. The teeth are set at exactly the same distance apart as the frequency range of yellow light (565-590nm). When white light 'hits' the wing, the yellow frequencies of the visible light spectrum are subtracted. White light minus yellow, will appear blue. Technically the wing is not blue, it is made to appear blue to the human eye by a process of colour frequency subtraction. 

The blue Morpho butterfly wing reveals how careful we must be when trying to discern truth, from lies. If we are afraid to look deeply enough, we may be fooled into thinking that  blue is blue, when it is not.

The precise arrangement of these teeth-like protrusions, are what make the butterfly wing appear blue. The frequencies of yellow light are captured by the baffles and neutralised, this is why the wing appears blue to the naked eye. If the spacing of the teeth were set further apart, or closer together, they would subtract different frequencies of the visible light spectrum. 


Image credit: Shinya Yoshioka, Osaka University


To create the appearance of a specific ’colour’ by a method of frequency subtraction, requires a thorough understanding of the laws of physics. The frequency subtraction method also requires an ability to accurately measure wavelengths, at the nano scale. Even when these things are known, there is still the challenge of building a nano sized structure capable of achieving colour subtraction. To make the structure a living being, adds a whole new layer of complexity. To make it beautiful, another layer. And so on, and so forth.

What is so impressive about these organic structures is that they are not 'perfect' and yet, despite this perceived imperfection, they function absolutely perfectly. I use the term 'perfectly imperfect' to describe this phenomenon.


In the above example, no two teeth are the exact same size, but, they are all within the necessary tolerances that make the process of colour subtraction function reliably. The 'imperfection' makes the wing multi dimensional as each baffle is absorbing a slightly different frequency of the yellow spectrum within the range 565-590nm. The colour shift depends on the angle of the light source relative to the wing surface,


Butterfly egg Image credit: National Geographic Spain

A butterfly never attends school to learn how to fly; the knowing of how to fly, is woven into the very fabric of it's 'being'. My point is this; if a crawling worm, can be turned into a flying butterfly, then why should we fear the outcome of our own transformation?

"The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination". Albert Einstein

Hidden in plain sight; in something as fragile as a butterflies wing, is evidence of a highly evolved creative intellect. The architect of this system, knew that one day, we would look at the blue morpho wing under an electron scanning microscope, and eventually reach the conclusion that the wing of the blue morpho butterfly, was not really blue at all.

In 2017, Oregon State University chemist Mas Subramanian discovered “YInMn blue” named after the elements Yttrium, Indium, and Manganese, during experimentation with materials for electronics applications.

The new pigment has a unique crystal structure that allows the manganese ions to absorb red and green wavelengths of light, the pigment only reflects blue wavelengths of light.

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