Butterfly wing colours: scale beads make white pierid wings brighter

D. G. Stavenga, S. Stowe, K. Siebke, J. Zeil, K. Arikawa

Abstract

The wing–scale morphologies of the pierid butterflies Pieris rapae (small white) and Delias nigrina (common jezabel), and the heliconine Heliconius melpomene are compared and related to the wing–reflectance spectra. Light scattering at the wing scales determines the wing reflectance, but when the scales contain an absorbing pigment, reflectance is suppressed in the absorption wavelength range of the pigment. The reflectance of the white wing areas of P. rapae, where the scales are studded with beads, is considerably higher than that of the white wing areas of H. melpomene, which has scales lacking beads. The beads presumably cause the distinct matt–white colour of the wings of pierids and function to increase the reflectance amplitude. This will improve the visual discrimination between conspecific males and females.