We tend to view the wings of a butterfly as we do our fingernails or hair. We think of them as lifeless, rigid structures that serve as airfoils only useful for flying. Researchers at Columbia University led by Dr. Nanfang Yu have discovered that butterfly wings are more than inert tissue. The wings are equipped with living tissues that serve other critical factors for the butterflies. The design of butterfly wings is more than beautiful.
Using thermal imaging, the scientists measured the emissivity of the wings. That means the ability of the wings to emit thermal energy. Butterfly wings have veins that carry hemolymph (insect blood). Male butterflies also have scent patches that release pheromones for attracting mates. The researchers found that the emissivity of the veins and patches was very high. That means the wings of butterflies are engineered to emit thermal energy to prevent the insect from overheating in the hot sun.
The veins of the butterfly wings are covered with a thick layer of chitin, which is the material that makes up the insect’s exoskeleton. The patches on the wings have tube-shaped nanostructures and extra chitin. Thick and hollow materials are better at radiating heat than thin, solid materials. Butterflies are designed to handle high temperatures, and science is just beginning to understand how the design of butterfly wings works to cool the insects.
The study included more than 50 different butterfly species. The conclusion the scientists reached is that butterfly wings are “living structures” not inert material. The design of butterfly wings prevents the insect from overheating as well as allowing it to fly.
That butterfly in your garden is not only beautiful but a creature with a highly complex design. We are still learning about the fantastic transformation that takes place when a caterpillar changes into a butterfly. The study of the butterfly’s wings adds another layer of design and intelligence to what God has done with these incredible insects.
We are all familiar with the green plants that grow in our yards and gardens. Most of us know that the process that converts the energy of the Sun into food for the plant is called photosynthesis. “Photo” means light, and “synthesis” means change. The change is made possible by a wonderfully well-designed material called chlorophyll, which means “green leaf” in Greek. What happens when there is no light and no chlorophyll? This is essentially the issue on the forest floor, where detritus piles up, including cellulose from plants and organic material from both plants and animals. A whole different kind of organism is required to change all of that material into useful energy. That is why we have plants such as mushrooms, God’s waste processors.
Instead of cellulose, which makes up the cell walls of most plants, the cell walls of a mushroom are made of chitin. Chitin is a protein similar to the keratin in your hair and fingernails. Mushrooms are fungi that use chemical changes to turn dead plant material into energy, which may be useful to other forms of life. There are hundreds of different kinds of mushrooms and thousands of different types of toadstools. Each kind contains materials that allow these plants to clean up anything that might be on the floor of the forest.
Not only do mushrooms and toadstools clean up the forest floor, but they also supply humans and animals with a variety of useful materials. Humans can eat many forms of mushrooms, and animals can eat some varieties that humans cannot. We use mushrooms and toadstools to make dye, detergents, bug killers, and medicines for humans and animals.
Everything in the creation has a purpose, but sometimes we are ignorant of the uses and benefits of things like mushrooms. God has designed not only the beautiful things we see, but also the beautiful things we don’t see, but which are essential to our existence. Mushrooms are fungi, and we often think of a fungus as something negative and bad. However, mushrooms, God’s waste processors, play a positive role in support of our life on this planet.
We have a children’s book titled The Friendly Fungus Among Us by Charlsy Ford and John Clayton. You can read it online HERE or purchase it HERE.