Insect inspiration is harder to come by in the Colorado winter. However, a visit to the Butterfly Pavilion certainly helps! The photos from our recent visit there reminded me of an insect feature I haven’t really discussed yet: their eyes.

Insects can have compound eyes or simpler eyes we called ocelli. The vast majority of insects have one or both these. Compound and simple eyes work a little differently and have different advantages. Compound eyes are good at detecting edges and shapes. Ocelli are good at detecting light levels and a very fast response time.

Insects do perceive colors but the spectrum of light they are sensitive to is not the same as humans. They can see more in the ultraviolet range and are attracted to blue and ultraviolet wavelengths of light. Many bee pollinated plants have evolved to take advantage of this by developing ultraviolet markings that direct pollinators. I do not have any pictures of this, but this Daily Mail article and this Wikipedia page both have some good photos.

Butterflies are tretrachromatic, meaning they have 4 types of color receptors (this very rarely happens in humans as well although most of us have just 3). They also have a great view of their surroundings due the placement of their eyes. They use their eyes to navigate and find flowers and mates. Variations in their compound eyes gives a wide variety of cool patterns.

The three different butterflies have three different-looking eyes: stripes, spots, and pain black. We saw all these guys at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, CO. The left on is an owl moth with crazy striped eyes, but I wasn’t able to ID the other two. They are pretty though! I particularly like the spots in the eyes of the orange one in the upper right.


About keviclaire

I recently graduated from the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley. My research interests are focused on biological control and how to increase it's use in agriculture and home gardens. I am also an avid gardener and insect photographer. I'm using this blog as a place to share those interests!

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