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看不见的蝴蝶

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  Greta oto 听起来也许像一个东欧默片演员的名字,事实上,它是地球上一种最优美且罕为人知的一个蝴蝶品种。这种蝴蝶的名气来自于它全长六厘米的翅翼几乎是透明的。你确实能看穿它们。
  这种卓越的蝴蝶英文名统一叫“玻璃翅”,它自身就展现了许多这个小却很不寻常的昆虫的外貌。然而,想介入并给蝴蝶一个最适合的名字却需要浪漫的语言。玻璃翅的西班牙名字是‘espejitos'。从文学上讲,意为“小镜子”。当灵感进入它西班牙命名者大脑那一瞬间,只要瞥一眼这问题中的昆虫人们就能想象兴奋地发抖。
  近距离观察Greta oto ,你会发现在翅翼的翅脉之间组织几乎能被看穿。(或者也许是半透明的)其他大多数蝴蝶有多彩的鳞为翅翼添加花样,通常是为挡开掠食者。玻璃翅有另一种方法,但千百年来它已将特殊的翅翼进化成隐蔽躲开掠食者,而不是将之挡开。你只能通过暗色的边缘说它有翅翼,有时也是橙色。如果不是这些边缘,人类眼中玻璃翅大约将会是看不见的。
  玻璃翅是蝴蝶一个独特的进化枝,Jennifer Aniston也许会说,现在是对于科学而言。一个进化枝是一个分支,是物种分类中使用的形式。当许多物种有一个同样的祖先时,(并不需要多广泛)这就是我们所说的由同一物种演化。玻璃翅的共同祖先已灭绝很长时间,但它所属的种类是目前已知的透翅蛾进化枝。
 
  人类并没有全面理解自然界中的透明现象。为实现透明,组织必须不能吸光,也不能散光,这就是被看穿的最大障碍。例如,人类永远不会透明。因为他们有不同折射度的化学和生物混合物。因此,玻璃翅的翅翼必须具有相同的折射指数,否则很可能不会透明。(现在是假设而非真实)人们认为翅的表面有很小的覆盖着的隆起,可以说是超微观的。它们有单一的发射率以至于不会散光,使得翅膀是透明的。
 
  在蝴蝶中它是看起来精巧的品种,但将他们束缚起来繁殖的人发现它颇有弹性,它的翅膀也比其他种类强很多。另一个慰藉是在玻璃翅的自然栖息地它还是很普遍的。然而除非你生活在南美洲,否则唯一看到活着的玻璃翅的机会就是在蝴蝶房里或农场上。
 
  然而,如果你想在野外看“小镜子” ,你就必须旅游——从墨西哥到中美洲的巴拿马你都会看到。也许你也有必要定位在距离最近的雨林作为玻璃翅的繁殖环境。它们吸取许多种雨林花的花蜜,但在产卵期与确保下一代成活时,玻璃翅就要大显身手了。(隐喻)
 
  玻璃翅遇到可行的地方就会在一种叫‘夜香树'的植物上产卵。对我们来说,它统一的名字是夜影,它也有剧毒。毛虫的浅紫色与红色条纹对潜在掠食者是种警告,它是种鸟类与其他动物都不喜欢的零食。生物碱是植物中自然产生的化学物质,它充满氮气,直到玻璃翅到成年期它仍会一直留在体内,这就意味着它们不会是一顿可口的饭。
 
  交配通常在下午早些时候开始,会持续几小时,雄性会将一些生物碱转化成费洛蒙来吸引雌性。玻璃翅也因它长长的迁徙而著称,并且两种雄性要相遇时,就会求偶集会。一大群雄性聚集起来炫耀总体的最好形态——然后雌性会选择最突出的和看上去最兴奋的。
  玻璃翅并不是罕见品种,它是少数能成功掌握透明变化的陆生动物。现在你看着它,你看不到。

译文:Invisible Butterflies

Greta oto may sound like the name of a silent movie star from Eastern Europe but is, in fact, the scientific name for one of the most exquisite - and little known - species of butterfly on the planet. This butterfly's claim to fame is that its wings, spanning up to six centimeters, are almost completely transparent. That's right, you can see just about right through them.

The common English name for this remarkable butterfly is glasswing, which in itself speaks volumes about the appearance of this small but unusual insect. However, it takes the romance languages to step in and give the butterfly the name which, for many, suits it best. The Spanish name for the glasswing is ‘espejitos'. Literally translated, this means ‘little mirrors'. Just a glance at the insect in question and one can imagine the thrill of pleasure when the moment of inspiration that came to its Hispanic name giver.

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A close look at Greta oto reveals that between the veins of its wings the tissue is virtually see through (or, properly, translucent). Most other butterflies have colored scales which pattern the wings, quite often to ward off predators. The glasswing has another way of doing this entirely, but over the millennia it has evolved these specific wings to hide itself from predators rather than to warn them off. The only way that you can tell that it has wings at all are the borders, which are of a dark hue, sometimes bordering on the orange. Were it not for these borders, the glasswing would be more or less invisible to the human eye.

Image Credit

The glasswing is part of a specific clade of butterfly. Now for the science, as Jennifer Aniston might say. A clade is a ‘branch' and is a term used in the taxonomy of species. When groups of species has a single common ancestor (which does not necessarily need to be extant) then it is known as monophyletic. The common ancestor of the glasswing is long extinct but the clade it belongs to is known as the clearwing clade.

Image Credit

Transparency in nature is not something that has been very well understood. In order to achieve transparency the tissue must not absorb light. Neither can it scatter light, as this is the major obstacle to being see-through. Humans, for example, will never be able to be transparent because they have chemical and biological compounds that all have different refraction. The wings of the glasswing must, therefore, have the same refractive index all the way through them as otherwise this transparency could not possibly occur. It is thought (a postulation at the moment rather than sure fire fact) that the surface of the wing has a covering of protrusions that are so small they can be called submicroscopic. They have a single refractive index and so do not scatter light, so making the wings transparent.

Image Credit

As with most butterflies it is a delicate looking species, but those who breed it in captivity have found it to be quite resilient and its wings are no less strong than those of other species. Another relief is the fact that in its native habitat it is quite common. Unless you live in South America, however, the only chance you will get of seeing the glasswing alive is in a butterfly house or farm.


Image via Wikipedia

If you want to see ‘little mirrors' in the wild, however, you will have to take a trip - anywhere from Mexico to Panama in Central America will do the trick. You will also have to locate the nearest rainforest as the understory of this environment is where the glasswing prospers. They feed off the nectar of a variety of rainforest flowers but when it comes to laying their eggs and ensuring the survival of the next generation, the glasswing has a fine trick up its (metaphorical) sleeve.

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The glasswing, where possible, will lay its eggs on a plant of the genus ‘Cestrum'. Its common name, to you and I, is the nightshade and it is highly poisonous. The caterpillars, which are striped in bright purple and red to warn possible predators, are thus a snack that birds and other animals will not enjoy at all. The alkaloids, a chemical in the plants that occurs naturally and is full of nitrogen, stay in the bodies of the glasswing in to adulthood meaning that even then they will not be an attractive meal.

Image Credit

During mating, which can last for many hours, usually starting in the early afternoon, the males will convert some of these alkaloids in to pheromones which will attract the females to them. The glasswing is also noted for its long migrations and the fact that the males of the species, when about to meet, practice lekking. This is when a host of males gather together to show off their best features en masse - the females then choosing the most dominant and visually exciting.

Image Credit

The glasswing, while not rare as a species, is one of very few land based animals that have successfully mastered the act of transparency. Now you see it, now you don't.

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