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Tissue Cell. 1985;17(5):745-62.

Fine structure and development of the silver and golden cuticle in butterfly pupae.

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Max-Planck-Institut für Verhaltensphysiologie, Seewiesen, Federal Republic of Germany.


Pupae of the butterflies Danaus chrysippus and Helioconius charitonius display characteristic patterns of golden spots, while the pupae of the genera Euploea and Amauris exhibit metallic lustre over most of their surface; E. core and midamus more golden, A. ochlea and niavius more silvery. The absolute reflectance exceeds 80% at wavelengths longer than 550 nm, but drops more or less steeply at shorter wavelengths (shown by microspectrophotometry for E. core and A. ochlea; in all species this effect is caused by constructive interference of the incident light at Multiple Endocuticular Thin Alternating Layers (METAL cuticle). Dense, cuticular D layers alternate with clear, watery C layers and form over 200 double layers. The thickness of the D layers is fairly constant throughout the stack, whereas the C layers systematically increase and decrease in thickness, thus causing the broad bandwidth of the reflector. Connecting filaments, traversing the C layers in zig zag course, probably secure the mechanical stability of the arrangement. After drying, the C layers have vanished and the lustre is lost; the cuticle is now perfectly transparent, except for D. chrysippus, where it is partly transparent and partly yellow. The metallic reflectance develops between 20 and 30 hr after pupal ecdysis, starting with blue colours which change via green to gold or silver. About half a day before emergence of the imago, the reflection fades again via the opposite colour sequence. Coincident with these colour changes, the METAL cuticle is being deposited and decomposed, respectively. The deposition zone immediately above the apical epidermal microvilli consists of about three helicoidal lamellae as in normal, non-reflecting cuticle. The METAL cuticle is formed abruptly at the outer border of the deposition zone, possibly during condensation of the cuticular microfibres. The periodicity it is suggested is controlled either directly by the epidermal cells or indirectly via appropriate self-assembling processes.


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