January 19, 2007 | David F. Coppedge

This Bug Is Whiter than White, Brighter than Bright

Detergent manufacturers should get a load of this beetle.  Cyphochilus, a resident of southeast Asia, is clothed in one of the brightest white surfaces (per unit thickness) known.  British scientists reporting in Science1  were intrigued how the bug accomplishes this shining performance.  Most bright-white surfaces, such as paint and paper, need a hundred times the thickness to achieve such brilliance.
    Some insects and birds are able to intensify particular colors using photonic crystals, which are regularly-spaced pits or shapes on scales or wings (see 01/29/2003, 10/13/2003).  The microscopic geometric patterns serve to add up particular wavelengths and cancel others.  White light, though, requires a high degree of scattering across the spectrum.  The scientists found that the 5-micron thick scales of Cyphochilus contain “a random network of interconnecting cuticular filaments with diameters of about 250 nm.”
    Imitating this trick may lead to several applications.  Brighter paints and paper could be in our beetle-inspired future, and maybe even whiter teeth.  See also the articles on Live Science, BBC News and University of Exeter.


1Pete Vukusic, Benny Hallam, and Joe Noyes, “Brilliant Whiteness in Ultrathin Beetle Scales,” Science, 19 January 2007: Vol. 315. no. 5810, p. 348, DOI: 10.1126/science.1134666.

Good science can discover, understand, and imitate the natural world without any need for evolutionary storytelling.  That’s another reason why biomimetics can provide a nonsectarian, nonphilosophical escape hatch for disillusioned Darwinists.  The authors did not need to mention evolution.  Intelligent design was not mentioned either, but was implicit.

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