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Moth wing scales

Kevin Mackenzie, University of Aberdeen

Moth wing scales

Download this image from Wellcome Collection.

Scanning electron micrograph (SEM) of the scales on the wing of a Madagascan moon moth, Argema mittrei. This moth is also known as the Comet moth, after its very long tail. The tail span is 15 cm and wing span 20 cm, making it one of the world's largest silk moths.

What does this image show?

This SEM shows a close-up of the scales on the Madagascan moon moth's wing. Scales are found on the wings of butterflies and moths (from the Lepidoptera order), producing their distinctive colours. In fact, Lepidoptera means 'scaly-winged'. Each scale is individually coloured, which can create different patterns on the wings. Madagascan moon moths are coloured bright yellow and light green (see image below), with four spots that look like purple eyes. SEMs are created in black and white, and are given a false colour after they have been imaged. Creator Kevin Mackenzie has coloured the scales in this micrograph light green to reflect the natural colour of the moth.


Where did this moth come from?

The Madagascan moon moth is endangered in the wild, owing to the loss of its habitat. However, it is being successfully bred in captivity. This moth came from the Natural History Centre at the University of Aberdeen, where Kevin Mackenzie works. He had been interested in a closer look at these beautiful moths, and asked the Centre to give him one after it had died (the adult moth cannot feed, and so only lives for four to five days). With it, Kevin produced the striking image you can see here.