Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a way to peek inside of a butterfly’s chrysalis and record in real-time how their microscopic scales develop from start to finish.
Butterfly wings have long fascinated scientists, ever since the first documentation of the growth of said wings back in 1938. We now have much more advanced imaging techniques, shedding further light on this complex process. “Previous studies provide compelling snapshots at select stages of development; unfortunately, they don’t reveal the continuous timeline and sequence of what happens as scale structures grow,” said co-author Mathias Kolle, a mechanical engineer at MIT. “We needed to see more to start understanding it better.”
The team raised batches of painted lady butterflies (Vanessa cardui) in the laboratory, carefully monitoring the larvae housed in individual containers until the larvae molted their skins. Once the caterpillars were encased in a chrysalis and the final metamorphosis into butterflies had begun, the researchers set about recording the process. They relied upon a couple of surgical approaches to get an inside view of the wing development in the pupae.
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