Coloration principles of the Great purple emperor butterfly (Sasakia charonda)

Doekele G. Stavenga*, Hein L. Leertouwer, Kentaro Arikawa

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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The dorsal wings of male Sasakia charonda butterflies display a striking blue iridescent coloration, which is accentuated by white, orange-yellow and red spots, as well as by brown margins. The ventral wings also have a variegated, but more subdued, pattern. We investigated the optical basis of the various colors of intact wings as well as isolated wing scales by applying light and electron microscopy, imaging scatterometry and (micro)spectrophotometry. The prominent blue iridescence is due to scales with tightly packed, multilayered ridges that contain melanin pigment. The scales in the brown wing margins also contain melanin. Pigments extracted from the orange-yellow and red spots indicate the presence of 3-OH-kynurenine and ommochrome pigment. The scales in the white spots also have multilayered ridges but lack pigment. The lower lamina of the scales plays a so-far undervalued but often crucial role. Its thin-film properties color the majority of the ventral wing scales, which are unpigmented and have large windows. The lower lamina acting as a thin-film reflector generally contributes to the reflectance of the various scale types.

Original languageEnglish
Article number13
JournalZoological Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec-2020


  • Iridescence
  • Scatterometry
  • Spectrophotometry
  • Structural coloration
  • Thin films
  • Wing scales

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