The University of Sheffield

The actin cytoskeleton plays multiple roles in structural colour formation in butterfly wing scales

Posted on 2024-03-20 - 11:57 authored by Andrew Parnell



Vivid structural colours in butterflies are caused by photonic nanostructures scattering light. Structural colours evolved for numerous biological signalling functions and have important technological applications. Optically, such structures are well understood, however insight into their development in vivo remains scarce. We show that actin is intimately involved in structural colour formation in butterfly wing scales. Using comparisons between iridescent (structurally coloured) and non-iridescent scales in adult and developing H. sara we show that iridescent scales have more densely packed actin bundles leading to an increased density of reflective ridges. Super-resolution microscopy across three distantly related butterfly species reveals that actin is repeatedly re-arranged during scale development and crucially when the optical nanostructures are forming. Furthermore, actin perturbation experiments at these later developmental stages resulted in near total loss of structural colour in H. sara. Overall, this shows that actin plays a vital and direct templating role during structural colour formation in butterfly scales, providing ridge patterning mechanisms that are likely universal across lepidoptera. 

The data contained in this collection stems from a paper in Nature Communications


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