McNamara’s team used an electron microscope to photograph the moth fossil’s wing surface. Based on what’s known from similar structures in living moths and butterflies, the fossil should appear yellow-green rather than slightly yellow-blue, a difference likely caused by subtle structural changes during fossilization.
The moth is believed to be an extinct ancestor of modern-day forester moths, which possess a bright coloration that warns predators of their poisonous nature. The researchers suspect this moth was poisonous, too.
Image: McNamara et al./PLoS Biology
Citation: “Fossilized Biophotonic Nanostructures Reveal the Original Colors of 47-Million-Year-Old Moths.” By Maria E. McNamara, Derek E. G. Briggs, Patrick J. Orr, Sonja Wedmann, Heeso Noh, Hui Cao. PLoS Biology, Nov. 15, 2011.