Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Butterfly Colors
Name: Danielle
Status: student
Grade: K-3
Location:  N/A
Country: N/A
Date: March 2007

Question:
I am in grade one and doing a science project, I am wondering what the average number of colors each butterfly has. And what is the range of number of colors each butterfly have.



Replies:
Your project you will find is very interesting. Generally, the "color"of butterfly wings is NOT due to the presence of a colored material in the wings, but rather, to the spacing of layers of butterfly wing tissue. So what you "see" as color differences is due to different spacings of the layers of butterfly wing tissue. You can see the same effect from gratings that are available from suppliers of materials for science projects such as Edmund Scientific (This is not a recommendation of this particular company, but just a suggestion.) There are other suppliers of similar optical gratings that you can find on the Internet.

The different "colors" you see are due to the various spacing of colorless layers, not due to the presence of dyes or pigments. The number of colors each butterfly has is very wide from red to blue.

Vince Calder


More than you can count! Just like you can mix blue and yellow to make green, butterflies can mix many colors in their wings. Every butterfly is slightly different, so the color range is as broad as can be!

Butterflies can also see colors that people can't see. There's a kind of light called "ultraviolet" that people can't see, but some birds and insects can see. Butterflies have colors we can see, and they also have "ultraviolet" colors on their wings that they can see but we can't. So even if you wanted to count all the colors on a butterfly wing, you wouldn't be able to!

Burr Zimmerman



Click here to return to the General Topics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (help@newton.dep.anl.gov), or at Argonne's Educational Programs

NEWTON AND ASK A SCIENTIST
Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory