Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Hot Wings

Structure of butterfly wings provides insight into heat regulation

16 February 2020

Hot Wings

Flying kites and butterfly wings are common sights in the summer sky. Yet far from being just pretty membranes stretched out to catch the breeze, butterfly wings rely on inner beauty to cope with the heat. Here we see black and blue scales from a Bistonina biston butterfly (top row) and under a scanning electron microscope (bottom). Their structural patterns help regions of the wing absorb and distribute heat differently, while cells equipped with temperature sensors allow the insect to tune its flight path to protect its fragile flappers from extreme temperatures. Economical designs that make allowances for thermoregulation may inspire the development of new aircraft wings, or perhaps 'smart' clothing to distribute heat better around the body, decreasing the risks of heat stress when working in sun.

Written by John Ankers

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