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The snout-weevil’s colors: Mimicking God’s art and engineering

The snout-weevil’s colors: Mimicking God’s art and engineering

What on earth is a Philippine snout weevil, and what does it have to do with Christian worldview?

It’s no exaggeration to say that if it weren’t for the amazing design found in nature, much of the best of our modern technologies wouldn’t exist. Digital Trends documents a whole collection of examples, from bullet trains that mimic the beaks of kingfisher birds, to high-rises that copy the ventilation systems of termite mounds. I’m not kidding. The film “Incredible Creatures that Define Design” by my friend Steve Greisen, talks about what’s called “biomimicry.”

And yet, despite all of our technological achievements, we’re not even close to exhausting the riches of engineering and artistry available in nature. One of the most eye-catching examples to emerge in recent months is a tiny insect—a species of beetle known as the Philippine snout weevil.

Full disclosure: I’d never heard of this creature until our BreakPoint editor decided he would enjoy hearing me say “Philippine snout weevil” on the air. But it’s worth it.

A recent report in WORLD magazine revealed this miniature marvel’s true colors. Literally. You see, this beetle has a series of rainbow spots on its wing casings that do something very rare in nature: They maintain the same color no matter which angle you view them from. This has scientists fascinated, not only is this so-called “high-fidelity” color rare in nature, it’s nonexistent in human technology. Not a smart phone, laptop, tablet, or HD TV in existence can successfully produce colors that remain true, no matter how you look at them.

The website Optics and Photonics reported on the joint research by a Singaporean-Swiss team who discovered just how the weevil accomplishes this dazzling feat.

Each spot on its wing casings forms concentric circles of color which cover the full visible spectrum from blue to red, in the same order as a rainbow. But unlike most hues in nature, which are generated using pigments, the snout weevil’s brilliant design comes from what scientists call “structural color.”

Like the wings of the much more famous blue morpho butterfly, the weevil’s spots have a gleaming, metallic quality. This is because their color comes from tiny, crystalline structures made of chitin that split sunlight like a prism.

It was Isaac Newton who discovered that white light contains all the colors of the rainbow. Using glass lenses of the right shape, he noticed it was possible to refract those colors into their different wavelengths. The structural color used by the snout weevil and morpho butterflies takes advantage of this same principle.

But the weevil does something almost no other insect can. By using spherical scales instead of flat ones like a butterfly, and by controlling their size and volume, the weevil maintains near-perfect color fidelity across hues, regardless of how you look at it. In other words, unlike our own electronic displays, its colors are always true.

If human engineers could ever mimic this mechanism, it could have applications in electronic displays, more efficient fiber optics, more vivid paints, and even cosmetics.

What a strange and wonderful reminder that God is not only a master engineer; He’s an artist. Nature didn’t have to be this beautiful, this extravagant, especially in the humble, easy-to-miss wings of an insect.

That it is, tells us something of God’s character. He reserved the special privilege of perfect color fidelity for one of the lowliest creatures. Remember how Jesus said that even King Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as well as the lilies of the field?

And of course, the more we find even our best technology outdone by nature, the more ridiculous the idea that life created itself seems. No, the creation is the handiwork of an Engineer and Artist, who saw fit to share with us His creativity, inviting us to create, too, as a way to express His image and to glorify Him.

We want to help you navigate the culture and to separate fact from fiction in the news this coming year. So the Colson Center’s offering our supporters a one-year subscription to WORLD magazine for yourself or to give away to friends or family. WORLD’s an outstanding Christian news source. When you make an online donation at BreakPoint.org, you’ll get a one-year subscription for yourself or for someone else.

Resources

A beautiful design humans can’t replicate, Julie Borg | World.wng.org | October 14, 2018

A Tunable Biophotonic Rainbow, Molly Moser | The Optical Society of America | September 25, 2018

Originally posted at Breakpoint.

From BreakPoint. Reprinted with the permission of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or distributed without the express written permission the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. "BreakPoint®" and "The Colson Center for Christian Worldview®" are registered trademarks of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview.

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