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New images clarify how glasswing butterflies make their wings transparent

Most butterflies sport colorful, eye-catching patterns on their wings. But some species, like the glasswing butterfly, use mostly transparent wings to hide in plain sight.

To figure out how these Central American butterflies go incognito, researchers put the wings of glasswing butterflies (Greta oto) under the microscope. Sparse, spindly scales overlaying a see-through wing membrane with antireflective properties help make these insects so stealthy, researchers report in the May issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology. s

Transparency is the ultimate form of camouflage, says James Barnett, a behavioral ecologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, who wasn’t involved in the work. Transparent animals can instantly blend into any background (SN: 6/5/19). “It’s really hard to do,” Barnett says. “You have to modify your entire body to minimize any scattering or reflection of light.”

Aaron Pomerantz, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, became fascinated by butterflies with transparent wings while doing research in Peru. “They were really interesting and mysterious,” he recalls, “like these little, invisible jets that glide around in the rainforest.”

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