“Scales” are usually something we think of as belonging to fish, reptiles, dragons, or knights in shining armor. But butterflies have scales too. In fact, butterflies get their shimmery quality from thousands of tiny scales that line their wings, reflecting light at various angles. This trait is one the things that makes them unique among all insects:
We must define butterflies and moths as the flying land insects with complete metamorphosis . . . with four wings covered with colored scales. (1)
Scales are even included in their scientific name:
The order Lepidoptera includes butterflies AND moths. It comes from the Greek word for scales lepidos and the word for wings ptera
There are 150,000+ species of Lepidoptera (~20,000 of these are butterflies), and we continually discover new species. And each has a different pattern of uniquely shaped scales, which can be “Circular, like fish scales, long and thin, slate-like, arrow-like with a tooth-edged tail, or fan-like, resembling a palm leaf” (1). Moth scales are not uniformly shaped, even "hairy", whereas butterfly scales are more uniform (2). The scales contain complex chemical compounds that make color pigments or 'paints' that give color to the wings and sometimes also contain vitamins for the butterfly's growth.
What can this tell us all? That beautiful things, or strong things are made up of many parts? That as small pieces come together, larger patterns are revealed? Or that the variety of overlapping scales in their reflection of light make something singular and glimmering? Please post your own ideas in the comments.
And what, exactly, do these scales look like, up close? We absolutely enjoyed this awesome video by Smarter Every Day, exploring just this:
(1) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Butterflies & Moths by Dr. V. J. Stanek, 1977. Pages 7-11.
(2) Butterflies and Moths, A Golden Guide. Western Publishing Company, Inc. 1977.
WINGS Publication reflects on the human experience through language. It is the literary expression of our performance group "The Butterfly Ship". Here you will find articles by members of our crew and guest writers, on themes which contribute to the 'building' of the vessel with which we will sail to the sun....