The golden age of arthropods: ancient mechanisms of colour production in body scales.
ABSTRACT: Insect colour is extremely diverse and produced by a large number of pigmentary and nanostructural mechanisms. Considerable research has been dedicated to these optical mechanisms, with most of it focused on chromatic colours, such as blues and greens, and less on achromatic colours like white and gold. Moreover, studies on the evolution of these colours are less common and largely limited to inferences from extant organisms, in part because of the limited amount and types of available fossil material. Here, we directly compare nanostructure and colour of extant and amber-preserved (approx. 15 and 99 Myr old, respectively) gold-coloured representatives of micromoths (Lepidoptera: Micropterigidae) and springtails (Collembola: Tomoceridae). Using electron microscopy, microspectrophotometry and finite domain time difference optical modelling, we show that golden coloration in the extant micromoth is produced by nanometre-scale crossribs that function as zero-order diffraction gratings and in the springtail by a diffraction grating without crossribs. Surprisingly, nanostructure and thus predicted colour of the amber-preserved specimens were nearly identical to those of their extant counterparts. Removal of amber enabled direct colour measurement of the fossil micromoth and further revealed that its colour matched both that of the extant specimen and the predicted colour, providing further support for our optical models. Our data thus clearly show an early origin and striking conservation of scale nanostructures and golden coloration, suggesting strong selection pressure either on the colour itself or on the mechanisms that produce the colour. Furthermore, we show the thus-far untapped potential for the use of amber-preserved specimens in studies on the evolution of organismal coloration.
Project description:Extant weevils exhibit a remarkable colour palette that ranges from muted monochromatic tones to rainbow-like iridescence, with the most vibrant colours produced by three-dimensional photonic nanostructures housed within cuticular scales. Although the optical properties of these nanostructures are well understood, their evolutionary history is not fully resolved, in part due to a poor knowledge of their fossil record. Here, we report three-dimensional photonic nanostructures preserved in brightly coloured scales of two weevils, belonging to the genus Phyllobius or Polydrusus, from the Pleistocene (16-10 ka) of Switzerland. The scales display vibrant blue, green and yellow hues that resemble those of extant Phyllobius/Polydrusus. Scanning electron microscopy and small-angle X-ray scattering analyses reveal that the subfossil scales possess a single-diamond photonic crystal nanostructure. In extant Phyllobius/Polydrusus, the near-angle-independent blue and green hues function primarily in crypsis. The preservation of far-field, angle-independent structural colours in the Swiss subfossil weevils and their likely function in substrate matching confirm the importance of investigating fossil and subfossil photonic nanostructures to understand the evolutionary origins and diversification of colours and associated behaviours (e.g. crypsis) in insects.
Project description:The metallic coloration of insects often originates from diverse nanostructures ranging from simple thin films to complex three-dimensional photonic crystals. In Lepidoptera, structural coloration is widely present and seems to be abundant in extant species. However, even some basal moths exhibit metallic coloration. Here, we have investigated the origin of the vivid metallic colours of the wing scales of the basal moth Micropterix aureatella by spectrophotometry and scanning electron microscopy. The metallic gold-, bronze- and purple-coloured scales share a similar anatomy formed of a fused lower and upper lamina resulting in a single thin film. The optical response of this thin-film scale can be attributed to thin-film interference of the incident light, resulting in the colour variations that correlate with film thickness. Subtle variations in the wing scale thickness result in large visible colour changes that give Micropterix moths their colourful wing patterns. This simple coloration mechanism could provide a hint to understand the evolution of structural coloration in Lepidoptera.
Project description:Non-iridescent structural colour in avian feathers is produced by coherent light scattering through quasi-ordered nanocavities in the keratin cortex of the barbs. To absorb unscattered light, melanosomes form a basal layer underneath the nanocavities. It has been shown that throughout Aves, melanosome morphology reflects broad categories of melanin-based coloration, as well as iridescence, allowing identification of palaeocolours in exceptionally preserved fossils. However, no studies have yet investigated the morphology of melanosomes in non-iridescent structural colour. Here, we analyse a wide sample of melanosomes from feathers that express non-iridescent structural colour from a phylogenetically broad range of extant avians to describe their morphology and compare them with other avian melanosome categories. We find that investigated melanosomes are typically wide (approx. 300 nm) and long (approx. 1400 nm), distinct from melanosomes found in black, brown and iridescent feathers, but overlapping significantly with melanosomes from grey feathers. This may suggest a developmental, and perhaps evolutionary, relationship between grey coloration and non-iridescent structural colours. We show that through analyses of fossil melanosomes, melanosomes indicative of non-iridescent structural colour can be predicted in an Eocene stem group roller ( Eocoracias: Coraciiformes) and with phylogenetic comparative methods the likely hue can be surmised. The overlap between melanosomes from grey and non-iridescent structurally coloured feathers complicates their distinction in fossil samples where keratin does not preserve. However, the abundance of grey coloration relative to non-iridescent structural coloration makes the former a more likely occurrence except in phylogenetically bracketed specimens like the specimen of Eocoracias studied here.
Project description:<h4>Background</h4>Plumage coloration is important for bird communication, most notably in sexual signalling. Colour is often considered a good quality indicator, and the expression of exaggerated colours may depend on individual condition during moult. After moult, plumage coloration has been deemed fixed due to the fact that feathers are dead structures. Still, many plumage colours change after moult, although whether this affects signalling has not been sufficiently assessed.<h4>Methodology/principal findings</h4>We studied changes in coloration after moult in four passerine birds (robin, Erithacus rubecula; blackbird, Turdus merula; blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus; and great tit, Parus major) displaying various coloration types (melanin-, carotenoid-based and structural). Birds were caught regularly during three years to measure plumage reflectance. We used models of avian colour vision to derive two variables, one describing chromatic and the other achromatic variation over the year that can be compared in magnitude among different colour types. All studied plumage patches but one (yellow breast of the blue tit) showed significant chromatic changes over the year, although these were smaller than for a typical dynamic trait (bill colour). Overall, structural colours showed a reduction in relative reflectance at shorter wavelengths, carotenoid-based colours the opposite pattern, while no general pattern was found for melanin-based colours. Achromatic changes were also common, but there were no consistent patterns of change for the different types of colours.<h4>Conclusions/significance</h4>Changes of plumage coloration independent of moult are probably widespread; they should be perceivable by birds and have the potential to affect colour signalling.
Project description:Jumping spiders are well known for their acute vision and often bright colours. The male peacock spider Maratus splendens is richly coloured by scales that cover the body. The colours of the white, cream and red scales, which have an elaborate shape with numerous spines, are pigmentary. Blue scales are unpigmented and have a structural colour, created by an intricate photonic system consisting of two chitinous layers with ridges, separated by an air gap, with on the inner sides of the chitin layers an array of filaments. We have characterized the optical properties of the scales by microspectrophotometry, imaging scatterometry and light and scanning electron microscopy. Optical modelling revealed that the filament array constitutes a novel structural coloration system, which subtly fine tunes the scale reflectance to the observed blue coloration.
Project description:Animal colours commonly act as signals for mates or predators. In many damselfly species, both sexes go through a developmental colour change as adults, and females often show colour polymorphism, which may have a function in mate choice, avoidance of mating harassment and camouflage. In the blue-tailed damselfly, Ischnura elegans, young males are bright green and turn blue as they reach maturity. Females are red ( rufescens) or violet ( violacea) as immatures and, when mature, either mimic the blue colour of the males ( androchrome), or acquire an inconspicuous olive-green ( infuscans) or olive-brown ( obsoleta). The genetic basis of these differences is still unknown. Here, we quantify the colour development of all morphs of I. elegans and investigate colour formation by combining anatomical data and reflectance spectra with optical finite-difference time-domain simulations. While the coloration primarily arises from a disordered assembly of nanospheres in the epidermis, morph-dependent changes result from adjustments in the composition of pterin pigments within the nanospheres, and from associated shifts in optical density. Other pigments fine-tune hue and brilliance by absorbing stray light. These mechanisms produce an impressive palette of colours and offer guidance for genetic studies on the evolution of colour polymorphism and visual communication.
Project description:Iridescent structural colour is found in a wide variety of organisms. In birds, the mechanisms that create these colours are diverse, but all are based on ordered arrays of melanin granules within a keratin substrate in barbules. The feathers of the grackles and allies in the family Icteridae range in appearance from matte black to iridescent. In a phylogenetic analysis of this clade, we identified several evolutionary transitions between these colour states. To describe a possible mechanistic explanation for the lability of plumage coloration, we used spectrometry, transmission electron microscopy and thin-film optical modelling of the feathers of 10 icterid species from five genera, including taxa with matte black or iridescent feathers. In matte black species, melanin was densely packed in barbules, while in iridescent species, melanin granules were arranged in ordered layers around the edges of barbules. The structured arrangement of melanin granules in iridescent species created optical interfaces, which are shown by our optical models to be critical for iridescent colour production by coherent scattering. These data imply that rearrangement of melanin granules in barbules is a mechanism for shifts between black and iridescent colours, and that the relative simplicity of this mechanism may explain the lability of plumage colour state within this group.
Project description:Birds' eggshells are renowned for their striking colours and varied patterns. Although often considered exceptionally diverse, we report that avian eggshell coloration, sampled here across the full phylogenetic diversity of birds, occupies only 0.08-0.10% of the avian perceivable colour space. The concentrations of the two known tetrapyrrole eggshell pigments (protoporphyrin and biliverdin) are generally poor predictors of colour, both intra- and interspecifically. Here, we show that the constrained diversity of eggshell coloration can be accurately predicted by colour mixing models based on the relative contribution of both pigments and we demonstrate that the models' predictions can be improved by accounting for the reflectance of the eggshell's calcium carbonate matrix. The establishment of these proximate links between pigmentation and colour will enable future tests of hypotheses on the functions of perceived avian eggshell colours that depend on eggshell chemistry. More generally, colour mixing models are not limited to avian eggshell colours but apply to any natural colour. Our approach illustrates how modelling can aid the understanding of constraints on phenotypic diversity.
Project description:Animal coloration is a poorly-understood aspect of phenotypic variability. Here I expand initial studies of the colour gamut of birds by providing the first quantitative description of the colour variation of an entire avifauna: Australian landbirds (555 species). The colour of Australian birds occupies a small fraction (19%) of the entire possible colour space and colour variation is extremely uneven. Most colours are unsaturated, concentrated in the centre of colour space and based on the deposition of melanins. Other mechanisms of colour production are less common but account for larger portions of colour space and for most saturated colours. Male colours occupy 45-25% more colour space than female colours, indicating that sexual dichromatism translates into a broader range of male colours. Male-exclusive colours are often saturated, at the edge of chromatic space, and have most likely evolved for signalling. While most clades of birds occupy expected or lower-than-expected colour volumes, parrots and cockatoos (Order Psittaciformes) occupy a much larger volume than expected. This uneven distribution of colour variation across mechanisms of colour production, sexes and clades is probably shared by avifaunas in other parts of the world, but this remains to be tested with comparable data.
Project description:The soft tissues of many fossil vertebrates preserve evidence of melanosomes-micron-scale organelles that inform on integumentary coloration and communication strategies. In extant vertebrates, however, melanosomes also occur in internal tissues. Hence, fossil melanosomes may not derive solely from the integument and its appendages. Here, by analyzing extant and fossil frogs, we show that non-integumentary melanosomes have high fossilization potential, vastly outnumber those from the skin, and potentially dominate the melanosome films preserved in some fossil vertebrates. Our decay experiments show that non-integumentary melanosomes usually remain in situ provided that carcasses are undisturbed. Micron-scale study of fossils, however, demonstrates that non-integumentary melanosomes can redistribute through parts of the body if carcasses are disturbed by currents. Collectively, these data indicate that fossil melanosomes do not always relate to integumentary coloration. Integumentary and non-integumentary melanosomes can be discriminated using melanosome geometry and distribution. This is essential to accurate reconstructions of the integumentary colours of fossil vertebrates.