Insects can be beautiful. Today we want to consider a family of insects with about 180,000 described species. They include many of the most beautiful insects on Earth. They are in the Lepidoptera order, and we call them butterflies and moths.
Before they become butterflies and moths, these insects go through a larval stage as caterpillars.
When the caterpillar has eaten its fill of nutrients from its favorite plant, it goes into a pupal stage and through a complete metamorphosis to become a butterfly or a moth. It is one of the most amazing transformations in nature.
The English word “metamorphosis” is from a Greek word meaning “transformation.” So the caterpillar goes through a dramatic change in form and lifestyle. That word is used in Matthew 17:2 and Mark 9:2 to describe the “transfiguration” of Jesus Christ on the mountain where He met with Moses and Elijah. Paul used the word in Romans 12:2, where he describes the “renewing of your mind” to live a beautiful life according to the will of God.
There is much more to say about beautiful insects, but we will conclude our review of these fascinating creatures tomorrow.
When you see a peacock with brilliant green in its feathers, realize that it has no green feathers. Its feathers are actually brown, but God has used a clever optical trick to make them look green to us. We call it structural color. Likewise, many butterflies have bright blue spots on their wings, but there are no blue pigments in a butterfly’s wings.
Some plants produce fruits that look blue to us without having any blue pigment in the fruits. The only plants known to produce blue fruits in this way are Viburnum tinus and Lantana strigocamara. You will not get a blue stain if you crush their berries in your fingers. On the other hand, if you crush a common blueberry, its blue pigments will stain your fingers.
When you see a blue pigment, it is blue because it absorbs all other colors while reflecting blue. Structural color uses microscopic pyramid-like structures that manipulate the light. Since blue light has higher energy than other colors, it escapes the structure. Structural color requires no pigments, and you might call it an optical illusion.
Color is essential in the natural world. For example, animals with color vision use colors to camouflage, attract others, or discern whether something is good to eat. The problem with using pigments to produce color is that the chemistry to get a particular color is quite complex, but structural color does not involve any chemistry.
People have used chemicals to produce the colors we see in our fabrics, but some colors can be costly and time-consuming to produce. God has created a chemical-free method to produce much of the beauty we see in the world around us. Beauty in structural color gives evidence of a wise Creator.
Most of us probably have negative connotations about moths. We know that moths can cause problems in agriculture and can infest clothes left unattended in a closet. Moth balls have been in our history for a very long time. But it isn’t adult moths that eat holes in your clothing. It’s their larvae. In reality, moths are incredibly beautiful creatures, and perhaps you have not seen the most beautiful specimens because they are nocturnal.
One moth species known as Antheraea polyphemus can have a six-inch wingspan. The name comes from Homer’s epic “The Odyssey,” in which a giant called Polyphemus ate people. The giant polyphemus moth does not eat people, and neither does any other moth species. There are over 160,000 species of moths, and many of them produce larvae that eat crops that humans grow. However, adult moths have no mouths because they don’t eat anything in their adult stage.
Moths are incredibly beautiful creatures, and like virtually all living things, they are essential for humans in various ways. The domesticated silkworm in America is the larva of the moth Bombyx mori, and there are different species in different countries. Moths pollinate plants that open at night. For example, in the Himalayan ecosystem, they are primary pollinators essential to plant survival.
Some moths dig into the ground, and their larvae support underground ecosystems. The Mopane worm is a moth larva harvested as an important food source in regions of Africa. In the Congo, people eat moth larvae from thirty different species.
There are far more moth species than butterfly species – 160,000 compared to 17,500. As is true of just about everything in the natural world, we must learn how to manage and protect this resource. Mass pesticide spraying is not a positive way to manage this valuable resource God has given us.