Evolutionary-Optimized Photonic Network Structure in White Beetle Wing Scales

Bodo D. Wilts, Xiaoyuan Sheng, Mirko Holler, Ana Diaz, Manuel Guizar-Sicairos, Jörg Raabe, Robert Hoppe, Shu Hao Liu, Richard Langford, Olimpia D. Onelli, Duyu Chen, Salvatore Torquato, Ullrich Steiner, Christian G. Schroer, Silvia Vignolini, Alessandro Sepe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Most studies of structural color in nature concern periodic arrays, which through the interference of light create color. The “color” white however relies on the multiple scattering of light within a randomly structured medium, which randomizes the direction and phase of incident light. Opaque white materials therefore must be much thicker than periodic structures. It is known that flying insects create “white” in extremely thin layers. This raises the question, whether evolution has optimized the wing scale morphology for white reflection at a minimum material use. This hypothesis is difficult to prove, since this requires the detailed knowledge of the scattering morphology combined with a suitable theoretical model. Here, a cryoptychographic X-ray tomography method is employed to obtain a full 3D structural dataset of the network morphology within a white beetle wing scale. By digitally manipulating this 3D representation, this study demonstrates that this morphology indeed provides the highest white retroreflection at the minimum use of material, and hence weight for the organism. Changing any of the network parameters (within the parameter space accessible by biological materials) either increases the weight, increases the thickness, or reduces reflectivity, providing clear evidence for the evolutionary optimization of this morphology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1702057
JournalAdvanced Materials
Issue number19
StatePublished - May 10 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • General Materials Science


  • X-ray ptychography
  • arthopods
  • biophotonic structures
  • light scattering
  • nanotomography


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