Butterfly Wings Are A Matrix of Living Cells

January 28, 2020
Infrared photographs of butterflies. The brighter the color, the bigger the capability of radiative cooling. Credit: Nanfang Yu and Cheng-Chia Tsai/Columbia Engineering.
Naomi Pierce and PhD candidate, Richard Childers teamed with researchers at Columbia University to examine the wings of Lepidoptera. Butterfly wings contain a matrix of living cells whose function requires appropriate temperatures. However, given their small thermal capacity, wings can overheat rapidly in the sun. The team analyzed wings across a wide range of simulated environmental conditions and found regions containing living cells are maintained at cooler temperatures. The wings act like temperature sensors, which allows butterflies to respond swiftly to changes in sunlight and prevent overheating. The study was published in Nature Communications and featured in The Economist and Harvard Magazine