Transparency in Nature: Glasswing Butterflies (Greta oto)

admin Invertebrate Zoology

Butterflies are arthropods; they are from the largest class of arthropods, the insects (hexapoda). Insects hold the title as the most diverse class of animals, they have the largest number of individual species. Butterflies are part of the order lepidoptera, along with moths.

External Anatomy of a Butterfly:

By L. Shyamal (Own work) [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons









Comparing wings of Greta oto and another butterfly (Morpho menelaus):

Glasswing:                                                       Morpho menelaus:


By Corsairoz (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Derkarts (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons











Notice that the wings have lines which decorate the wing. These lines are circulatory vessels that bring circulatory fluid to the wings. The tissue between these vessels are called cells. The cells of Morpho menelaus are a beautiful blue color, the color warns other organisms that it is poisonous, or is “pretending” to be. As for the glasswing, it translucent cells are believed to help it avoid predators.

Translucence in nature is not easily obtainable, especially for organisms. The object must not absorb or refract (scatter) any light. This means that all of the tissue that makes up the cells of glasswing butterfly wings must have the same refractive index, ability of an object to scatter light, and it must be close to zero interaction with the light going through. This would correspond to a refractive index value of 1, (For more information). This is made possible by small nano-pillars of various heights on the surface of the cells.

Glasswings are generally found in Central and South America, though they have been seen in Florida. They lay their eggs in Nightshade plants which are poisonous to humans. The poisonous compounds that are found in Nightshade are called alkaloids, the larvae and caterpillars of the glasswings absorb some of this compound into their bodies making them poisonous to many organisms. There are many organisms which carry compounds with alkaloids in them.

Feature Image: By NH53 (Glasswing butterfly) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons





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