Surprise Insect Wing Coloration

I always enjoy surpriseobservations missed by everyone.  It iswhat makes mineral exploration in particular so much fun.  In this case, lab protocol acted to makeeveryone blind.

What it means is that a wholerange of ordinary insects evolved colorful display patterning in the samemanner as butterflies and for the same apparent reasons.  An obvious benefit is that it will be thefirst stop in determining identity of a species.

I am sure we will now soon see plentyof pictures of these new patterns once the protocol is thought out.

Hidden in Plain Sight: 'Fairy' Insect Wings Discovered

By Stephanie Pappas,LiveScience Senior Writer
posted: 13 January 2011 07:50 am ET

A female Closterocerus coffeellae, a fly collected in Colombia, looks drab against awhite background and shines against black. Credit: E. Shevtsova/J. Kjaerandsen

Tiny wasps and flies look bland at first glance — like any drab browninsect you'd swat away without a second thought. But a closer look reveals adazzling secret: Colorful wings that have gone unnoticed by scientists fordecades.

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden have discovered that theinsect species – hymenoptera wasps and diptera flies – they've been studyingfor decades reflect light off their wings in rainbow-like patterns. The effectis a bit like oil on water, but these patterns are permanent, suggesting theymay play a role in insectcommunication.

Scientists in the mid-1800s noticed these patterns, but shrugged themoff as random and fleeting. Contemporary scientists have missed the colorsentirely, Jostein Kjaerandsen, a researcher in the Museumof Zoology at Lund University,told LiveScience.

That's because lab techniques make the colors all but invisible, said Lund doctoral candidateEkaterina Shevtsova, who first noticed the colors. "In the lab and underthe microscope, we have long established traditions of viewing such small wingsagainst a bright white background, soaked in alcohol or embedded in an oilymedium on a slide," Shevtsova said. [Imageof fly against white and black backgrounds]

To see the colors, she said, you have to view a living or dried-outwing against a dark background.

Kjaerandsen, Shevtsova and their colleagues published the resultsonline Jan. 3 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academyof Sciences.

Hidden beauty

Shevtsova noticed the patterns one day while working with insectspecimens for her doctoral thesis.

"It's not easy to explain, because you observe many specimensevery day under the microscope and you don't see it," Shevtsova wrote inan e-mail to LiveScience. "And one day you handle a specimen, which youmay very well [have] seen before, and suddenly you notice the wingpattern, which is beautiful and perfect, like an art painting."

Shevtsova could tell the pattern wasn't random or chaotic, she said,and a check of other specimens showed that the patterns seemed stable withinspecies.

"Ever since you saw it, you can't stop seeing it," she said."It is just not possible to ignore."

She shared her discovery with Kjaerandsen, who was"flabbergasted," he said.

"It was like the world I knew suddenly was turned upside down anda totally new character system was sparkling from every wing of the flies I hadbeen working with for years without really noticing," Kjaerandsen wrote toLiveScience.

Colorful courtship?

The wings of the flies and wasps are transparent, but they reflectabout 20 percent of the light that hits them, the researchers found. It's thislight that creates the shining patterns, just like a thin film of soap or oilon water creates arainbow-colored glare.

Insects see color differently than humans, so the patterns likely lookdifferent to them, Kjaerandsen said. Patterns are similar within species andvary between species, suggesting that evolution may play a role in theartistry.

"We find it hard to believe that insects walk and fly around withwings that can be turned on to large (to them) flashing billboards withoutevolution picking up on it," Kjaerandsen said. "We think they areoften used for communication between malesand females of the same species, especially since many small flies andwasps are known to display or flash wings to each other during courtship."

The wasps and flies aren't the only everyday insects hiding beauty inplain sight. The common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, has jewel-likewings as well, the researchers found. So do a variety of winged bugs in CostaRican rainforests.

There is one notable exception to the rule, Kjaerandsen said: moths.When the researchers brushed the colored hairs and scales off moth wings, theyfound colorless wings beneath. That suggests that color patterns don't evolvewithout evolutionary pressure, Kjaerandsen said.

The next step, the researchers say, is to find out more about howinsects display their wings in the wild. They also hope to learn whetherevolution drives changes in the color patterns. Hidden signals such as colorfulwings can also give researchers clues to the evolutionary relationships betweenspecies, Kjaerandsen said.

The study is an example of old-fashioned science yielding new information,Kjaerandsen added.

"These days, when we more and more study biological diversitysplit down to molecules, traditional morphological studies like this one are onthe verge of disappearing from our universities – despite the fact that a majorproportion of these tiny sparkling jewels are still unknown to science,"he said.

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