by Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Butterfly Team
Butterfly wings are covered in many tiny scales that overlap like shingles on a roof. Scales come in many different shapes and in the past, have been used to classify butterflies.
The different colors are either produced by the pigments contained in the caterpillar’s diet or by the structure of the scale itself. Colors like red are created by pigment.
Iridescence and colors like blues and greens are produced by unique scale shapes that refract light. If you touch a butterfly’s wings you’ll notice that the scales rub off very easily, like a fine powder. Touching the butterfly wings damages them, so we are very careful to avoid touching them.