These ‘drab’ moths dazzle when the light is right: Night-loving insects that look brown by day have bright, species-specific patterns under infrared light.

  • Li, M. (Interviewee)
  • Clara Seinsche (Role not specified)
  • Samuel Jansson (Role not specified)
  • Julio Hernandez (Role not specified)
  • Rota, J. (Role not specified)
  • Warrant, E. (Role not specified)
  • Brydegaard, M. (Role not specified)

Activity: OtherMedia participation


Research highlight written by Giorgia Guglielmi (Science Writer)

Unlike their flamboyant butterfly relatives, moths have a reputation for being drab and dull. But research shows that these creatures are shiny and colourful under the right light1.

The wings of night-flying moths are covered in scales that typically appear brown under sunlight, helping to camouflage the animal during the day. Meng Li at Lund University in Sweden and her colleagues took pictures of 82 individuals across 26 moth species using a technique that analyses information from wavelengths invisible to the human eye. The researchers found that, under infrared light, moths’ wings are glossy and even brightly coloured.

Each species reflected the light in a distinct pattern. These patterns helped the team to estimate the structure of scales on the moths’ wings. For example, the researchers found that the black-bodied and white-bodied forms of the peppered moth (Biston betularia), which were thought to differ only in levels of melanin pigment, also differ in the structure of their wings’ scales. The infrared signatures could be used to identify species of wild moth, the authors say.
Period2022 Jun 21
Event titleResearch highlight in the scientific journal Nature
Event typeOther
Degree of RecognitionInternational

UKÄ subject classification

  • Remote Sensing
  • Atom and Molecular Physics and Optics

Free keywords

  • surface roughness
  • hyperspectral imaging
  • remote sensing
  • lepidoptera
  • infrared spectroscopy
  • Photonics