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Developmental, cellular and biochemical basis of transparency in clearwing butterflies

Abstract : The wings of butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera) are typically covered with thousands of flat, overlapping scales that endow the wings with colorful patterns. Yet, numerous species of Lepidoptera have evolved highly transparent wings, which often possess scales of altered morphology and reduced size, and the presence of membrane surface nanostructures that dramatically reduce reflection. Optical properties and anti-reflective nanostructures have been characterized for several ‘clearwing’ Lepidoptera, but the developmental processes underlying wing transparency are unknown. Here, we applied confocal and electron microscopy to create a developmental time series in the glasswing butterfly, Greta oto, comparing transparent and non-transparent wing regions. We found that during early wing development, scale precursor cell density was reduced in transparent regions, and cytoskeletal organization during scale growth differed between thin, bristle-like scale morphologies within transparent regions and flat, round scale morphologies within opaque regions. We also show that nanostructures on the wing membrane surface are composed of two layers: a lower layer of regularly arranged nipple-like nanostructures, and an upper layer of irregularly arranged wax-based nanopillars composed predominantly of long-chain n-alkanes. By chemically removing wax-based nanopillars, along with optical spectroscopy and analytical simulations, we demonstrate their role in generating anti-reflective properties. These findings provide insight into morphogenesis and composition of naturally organized microstructures and nanostructures, and may provide bioinspiration for new anti-reflective materials.
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https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-03012452
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Submitted on : Monday, October 11, 2021 - 3:18:58 PM
Last modification on : Friday, December 3, 2021 - 11:43:35 AM

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Aaron Pomerantz, Radwanul Siddique, Elizabeth Cash, Yuriko Kishi, Charline Pinna, et al.. Developmental, cellular and biochemical basis of transparency in clearwing butterflies. Journal of Experimental Biology, The Company of Biologists, 2021, ⟨10.1242/jeb.237917⟩. ⟨hal-03012452v2⟩

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