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If I asked you, what colour are the wings of the blue morpho butterfly? 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. 

When light shines through a prism, the individual colour bands 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.

Order is determined by wave~length; starting with the (slowest) frequency colour red, and ending in the (fastest) frequency colour, ultraviolet. Each colour appears distinctly set apart from all the others due to the fact that each occupies it's own relative 'place' in space and time.


The teeth-like ridges of the wing in the black and white photograph below, 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 get subtracted making the wing appear blue to the naked eye. Technically the wing of the blue morpho is not coloured blue, it is made to appear blue to the human eye, by a process of colour frequency subtraction. 

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 come to the conclusion, that the wing of the blue morpho butterfly, was not really blue at all.


Image credit: Shinya Yoshioka, Osaka University

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. 



To create the appearance of a specific ’colour’ by a method of frequency subtraction, requires an advanced understanding of the laws of physics. The method of frequency subtraction 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 the 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 knowledge of how to fly, is woven into the very fabric of its '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

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