A Beautiful, Very Dead, Moth

“Who could look at these pictures and not believe in God?” my Muslim friend asked. My Christian friend had expressed a similar idea as a statement. I wasn’t going to disagree with either one.

Figure 1: Digital Color Photo of Moth Body: The wing was pulled off, stuck onto an electron microscope stage, and coated with palladium.

Indeed! Insects are always interesting to look at in a scanning electron microscope. But the beauty of this dead moth far exceeded my expectations.

I save dead bugs when I see them, for educational purposes. This poor moth had been sitting around for quite a while, before I decided it’s time had come.

Figure 1 shows the moth in question, after I had broken off one of its outer wings, and taped it down to an electrically conductive specimen holder (aluminum) and sputter coated it with palladium to render it electrically conductive. A kindof boring motley brown, but surprising orange and white on the hidden pair of wings.

The moth wing was also surprising in how soft it felt when I broke it off.

If you zoom in to Figure 1, taken with a Olympus Tough Gear 5 digital camera, in microscope mode, you can see that the individual scales have different colors. This camera is currently available on Canon’s website for $500.00. It can do a lot of things. It will also take me a while to make it do what I want! (It’s pretty complicated.)

Figures 2 – 4 show additional views, obtained with my scanning electron microscope, at magnifications up to 6000x. But it is still impossible for me to tell if the “holes” are empty, or filled with a thin film of some sort.

Figure 2: Center of length of the wing
Figure 3: Note scalloped scale edges.
Figure 4: Note lacy structure. Are the holes empty or filled with some thin film?

Figure 5 shows the pointed end of the wing, where it used to be attached to the rest of the body.

Figure 5: The wing at the “shoulder” attachment point.

 

The different shapes of the feathery scales are beautiful. Figures 6 and 7 show how the scales are attached to the underlying shell of the insect.

Figure 6: Detail of how the individual scales are attached to the shell of the insect.
Figure 7: Broken off scale. How like a leaf!

I don’t know the cause of death of the moth. I found it whole, so maybe it simply came to the end of its life span. I’ll never know. But I honor the moth, the miraculous world we live in, and the “ugly beauty” of this plain insect.

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Shona

Engineering consultant by day, science fiction writer in off hours.

8 thoughts on “A Beautiful, Very Dead, Moth”

      1. I think the grand designer has an influence in all creation, but the element of chance, of choice, allows for many possibilities like ripples within ripples. I am content to wonder.

  1. Truly a beautifully done job on the breakdown explanation of the electron microscope’s picture’s of the moth wings….

  2. Stunning photography, and lots of food for discussion in the writing too (why save dead moths? What else do you save for “educational purposes”? And is that a euphemism for curiosity?) I’d love to have had this in a writing group!

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