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Name: Melissa W.
Status: educator
Age:  20s
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: 6/25/2003


Question:
Why do butterflies have so many different colors? How do these colors help them with defense and attraction? How might I best explain this to my 3rd grade students?


Replies:
Wow!! How much and how detailed do you want to know about the color of butterfly wings. I did a Google search on the topic: "color butterfly wings" and "physics color butterfly wings" and there is a vast amount of information. I grouped hits below according to most-to-least interesting. The second book reference may be useful. The short story is that the color is caused by interference of light by layered cellular structure of the wings. However, it is more complicated because butterfly wings are also "iridescent" (which the first "hit" discusses) and there is interference also in the ultraviolet which other butterflies can see that humans can. A fascinating topic. Good luck. I hope some of these sources can help you translate this most interesting topic to grade 3 level.

http://newton.ex.ac.uk/research/thinfilms/butterflies/iridesc-text.htm

http://cwx.prenhall.com/bookbind/pubbooks/giancoli3/chapter35/essay2/deluxe -content.html>

http://optics.org/articles/news/9/5/6/1

http://www.u.arizona.edu/~monicat/iridescence_butterfly.html

http://www.zoomdinosaurs.com/subjects/butterflies/anatomy/Wings.shtml

http://annex.jsap.or.jp/OSJ/opticalreview/TOC-Lists/vol03/3b139tx.html

http://graphics.stanford.edu/courses/cs348b-competition/cs348b-01/procedura l_butterflies/

http://www.zoo.ufl.edu/Courses/IP/2000-01/brake.pdf

Vince Calder


Coloration is in part for recognition of your own species for mating. Sometimes it is for protection to blend in and not get eaten by a bird, sometimes it is mimicry to look like a butterfly that tastes bad.

Peter Faletra


This is a very complex question. Butterflies may have evolved parallel with flowers, that might have something to do with color. The Notebaart Museum of the Chicago Academy of Sciences has a large butterfly exhibit, someone there might be able to help. Their web site:

http://www.chias.org/ T

his is a general web site with lots of links, some of which might help:

http://butterflywebsite.com/

This page has some very short answers:

http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/butterflies/faq.html

This is a butterfly curriculum page for K-12

http://www.rice.edu/armadillo/Ftbend/newfly.html

News item about butterfly ecology symposium, possible helpful technical references

http://www.esb.utexas.edu/philjs/News/PDF/ibees.pdf

J. Elliott


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