Many butterflies and moths have colors that show a metallic sheen. That sheen occurs because the refracting material in their wings and bodies is spread out in layers precisely as thin as the wavelengths of the light they refract.

Researchers recently found these delicate structures in moth fossils from Germany that are supposedly 47 million years old. But how could something that delicate last that long?

The authors of the study, which appeared in the online journal PLoS Biology, reported that the nanostructure of the tiny moth wing scales was still in very good condition, enabling the researchers to reconstruct their metallic coloration.

The report included electron micrographs of “bead-like spacers” less than one millionth of a meter in size. These spacers specify the tiny distances required to refract light. The “multilayer reflector” was still intact, almost like the moths were alive yesterday.1

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