In this activity learners investigate how some butterfly wings get their color from nanostructure, instead of pigments, and learn about technologies inspired by this phenomenon.


  • Learners observe that the way a material behaves on the macroscale is affected by its properties on the nanoscale.
  • Learners understand that some nanotechnologies are inspired by nature.

This 10 minute activity was created as a cart demo for visitors in museum environments, but can be used anywhere with any age group (4 – Adult) to demonstrate structural color in nature and how it has inspired new technologies.

Learners are presented with two species of butterfly: the Blue Morpho, which gets is brilliant color from nanostructures on its wings, and another species that is colored with (the Buttercup butterfly).  Learners observe the butterflies under natural lighting conditions and then by holding a light behind them. The latter condition reveals that the pigment in the Blue Morpho is actually brown! The blue color we see is produced by how light is diffracted when it hits nanostructures on the top surface of the wings. Learners are then introduced to examples of technologies inspired by this phenomenon of structural color.

A detailed guide, training video, signage and images showing the nanostructures are provided to support implementation. Butterfly specimens mounted in a clear case are used for this activity and must be purchased if your institution does not already have them. (Links are provided in the guide.)

Activity Training Video

Related Ask Nature Content

Learn more about the Blue Morpho butterfly and innovations inspired by structural color.