Science 3 min read

Glasswing Butterflies Inspire Optical Implants That Treat Glaucoma

Ger Bosma Photos /

Ger Bosma Photos /

Engineers took nano clues from the transparent wings of a glasswing butterfly in order to develop efficient eye implants.

Greta oto, known by their nickname glasswing butterflies, are a special species of butterfly with partly-translucent wings.

Found mainly in South America, glasswing butterflies go almost unnoticed thanks to the translucent membranes of their wings.

Transparent with a colored frame, the wings serve these butterflies as a means of camouflage. This allows them to blend into their environment and dodge the sight of predators.

The look of these beautiful glasswing butterflies fluttering their transparent wings has brought inspiration to engineers studying biomimetics, especially in optics.

Read More: Fire-Resistant Wallpaper Uses Biomimicry for Fire-safe Construction

Glasswing Butterflies in Biomimicry

Human civilization has evolved through a long history of trial and error.

However, while our hit-and-miss process has helped us get this far, it’s time we start learning from nature’s own adaptations.

Often, humans spend decades developing technologies that nature had already figured out for itself.

Read More: 8 Times Humanity Looked to Biomimetics for Innovation in Warfare

Why not take direct clues from nature’s models that proved effective over the course of millions of years?

Biomimeticists are always looking to spin nature’s tricks into useful technological innovations that address some engineering challenges.

Butterfly biomimicry mainly centers on their wings. Surprisingly, all butterfly wings are translucent. It’s the tiny colored scales that make the wings visible and the butterfly agreeable to look at.

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, however, these scales serve a practical purpose by acting as a waterproof film for the wings.

In the case of glasswing butterflies, scientists focus on the irregular nanostructure of their wings which gives them this ability to let light pass through.

For example, German engineers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have been studying glasswing butterflies to solve issues involved in screen glare.

The team seeks to develop a perfect anti-glare display for laptops, smartphones, and other devices.

This, however, is not the only biomimetic study that these butterflies have inspired.

Glasswing Butterflies Inspire Biophotonic eye Implants

The most recent development in glasswing butterfly biomimicry comes from the California Institute of Technology.

Caltech engineers took the antireflective property of the wings of longtail glasswing butterflies as a model to develop an ultrathin eye implant to monitor intra-eye pressure.

Here, we show a transparent photonic nanostructure inspired by the longtail glasswing butterfly (Chorinea Faunus) and demonstrate its use in intraocular pressure (IOP) sensors in vivo,” said authors of the study, published in Nature Nanotechnology.

According to the World Health Organization, after cataracts, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

Another issue with glaucoma is that pressure inside the eye leads to irreversible damage to the optic nerve.

Glaucoma patients need to monitor their eye pressure at their doctor’s office, which they can only do a few times per year.

With Caltech’s biophotonic eye implant, which comes with a handheld reader device, they can monitor the pressure inside their eyes constantly at home, and take medications if there’s a spike.

Do you think there’s any other animal which biomimetics should focus on?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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