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Development of structural colour in leaf beetles.

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Onelli, OD 
Kamp, TVD 
Skepper, JN 
Powell, J 
Rolo, TDS 


Structural colours in living organisms have been observed and analysed in a large number of species, however the study of how the micro- and nano-scopic natural structures responsible of such colourations develop has been largely ignored. Understanding the interplay between chemical composition, structural morphology on multiple length scales, and mechanical constraints requires a range of investigation tools able to capture the different aspects of natural hierarchical architectures. Here, we report a developmental study of the most widespread strategy for structural colouration in nature: the cuticular multilayer. In particular, we focus on the exoskeletal growth of the dock leaf beetle Gastrophysa viridula, capturing all aspects of its formation: the macroscopic growth is tracked via synchrotron microtomography, while the submicron features are revealed by electron microscopy and light spectroscopy combined with numerical modelling. In particular, we observe that the two main factors driving the formation of the colour-producing multilayers are the polymerization of melanin during the ecdysis and the change in the layer spacing during the sclerotisation of the cuticle. Our understanding of the exoskeleton formation provides a unique insight into the different processes involved during metamorphosis.



Animal Shells, Animals, Coleoptera, Color

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Scientific Reports

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Nature Publishing Group
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BB/K014617/1)
European Research Council (639088)
This work was supported by the BBSRC David Phillips fellowship [BB/K014617/1], and the ERC-2014-STG H2020 639088 SeSaMe. Research at KIT was partially funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research by grants 05K10CKB and 05K12CK2.