What is this material? It looks like a very tacky version of astroturf, or an arrangement of flower petals. But can you guess what it actually is?

This frankly unappealing arrangement of colored tags awkwardly stuck in rows is, when you zoom out, one of the most famously beautiful creatures in the world. It's an extreme close-up of the eye-spot on a luna moth. Here's a wider look at the animal.

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The individual scales are made of chitin, but a softer kind than the type that makes up the exoskeleton of the butterfly (and a much softer kind that the kind that makes up the exoskeleton of a lobster). Each individual scale is made of ridges of chitin, linked by a thinner mesh. Within each rib, microribs run like cables up the length of the scale. It's the pigmentation of these microribs that can give a moth or butterfly its iridescence. In the luna moth, they mostly just serve as support.

Here's a view of an entire eyespot, which gives us an understanding of how the individual scales are arranged into a pattern.

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[Via Chitin in Butterflies, Zoom Into a Butterfly's Wing]

Scale Images: Peter Znamenskiy, Moth Image: Jeremy Johnson.

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