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Watch a stunning MIT video of butterfly scales forming inside a chrysalis


Larger, overlapping scales in red and green begin to form their structural details midway through development. A butterfly’s beginnings are wondrous. Gently nestled in its cocoon, a caterpillar transforms into a fairylike creature with meticulously laid out, iridescent scales layered upon each wing. Piece by piece, scientists have been putting together how the magic of that metamorphosis happens. And they’ve just unlocked another step: scale formation.

Peering directly into a morphing caterpillar’s chrysalis — one on its way to becoming a painted lady butterfly — a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recorded the insect’s scales during its transformation. The stunning footage and selected images were published in the journal PNAS on Monday. Get the CNET Science newsletter

But butterfly wings are more than just beautiful. Understanding their schematics could ultimately benefit constructed materials like windows and thermal systems and even bring an ethereal quality to textiles.

“Previous studies provide compelling snapshots at select stages of development; unfortunately, they don’t reveal the continuous timeline and sequence of what happens as scale structures grow,” Mathias Kolle, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT and co-author of the study, said in a statement. “We needed to see more to […]

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