Have you ever wondered why some beetles were so white while the majority of them are so dark? It seems that many scientists have wondered this and as a result they have come up with the answer. It is all to do with their scales complex molecular geometry and the fact that they can scatter light efficiently even though they are incredibly thin.
Being able to understand the physical mechanisms means that there will be the chance to produce paper, paint and plastic that is even whiter than it is at present. As the Cyphochilus beetles are already whiter than existing products, they will be important to the research.
Based in the University of Cambridge, Dr Silvia Vignolini is the co-author of a paper that has just been published in Scientific Reports has said “We were inspired by the work of Prof Pete Vukusic, because when we saw these beetles that were so white we were quite puzzled.” The beetles had been studied by Professor Vukusic for many years and it was as a result of this that both D Vignolini and Dr Matteo Burresi who is the lead author on the relevant paper decided “We should try to do a proper study on the light propagation in these beetles to understand the main characteristics of the network that provide such brightness.”
Dr Vignolini explains that the way the Cyphochilus beetles produce white scales, they have to deflect different colours with the same strength and this is something that is not common in nature. In the same way that dark paint can be covered by white paint if enough layers are added, the beetles does this with its scales, yet the surprising thing is that the scales are so thin. They go on to explain that the beetles have developed these shells so as they can be safe when hiding in fungi and the way they have done it is the arrangement of chitin elements inside as well as the various sized and shapes.
Dr Vignolini goes on to say “these elements are elongated, but some of them are shorter, some of them are bigger”.
This latest news shows that it is natural selection that is allowing the beetles to become camouflaged and at the same time leaving the scales as light as can be. This is crucial for flying insects as a heavy body would be to their detriment.
There are other beetles that have been found to be as white as the Cyphocilus but they have a problem as in order to get like this their scales have become twice as thick. Dr Burresi had the final word saying: “What is difficult is to make this high-scattering effect with a thin material, and this is what the Cyphochilus is good at.”