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Madagascan Sunset Moths Become Rainbows Whenever They Flap Their Wings

Amy Pilkington 6 Sep 2020

Can I be real for a moment and admit that it took way too long for me to confirm that yes, these incredible moths are real, living creatures and not just a trend in the jewellery sphere?

Because it was really, really tough and I'm still only 85% sure. It's a firm 85%, but the lack of images available of the living, breathing moths still has me baffled.

I mean, the sunset moths of Madagascar are gorgeous!

Creative Commons | Frank.Vassen CC BY 2.0

But they are also hard to take photos of.

That's because the bright colors of their wings aren't actually pigment, but reflected light. As they flap their wings, the rainbow of color shifts and changes from every angle.

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Beautiful, but kind of hard to capture in a freeze frame.

Creative Commons | Frank.Vassen CC BY 2.0

Unlike most moth species, sunset moths are active during the day and so they are often mistaken for swallowtail butterflies.

A big part of the difficulty in finding pics for this article is that the iridescent wings are popular in jewellery and taxidermy.

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The moths are also quite large, with a wingspan of about 3-3.5 inches.

Thankfully, though they are highly sought after, the wild population of sunset moths is currently under no risk of extinction.

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They are also pretty well protected from predators in the wild.

Creative Commons | berniedup CC BY-SA 2.0

As caterpillars, they eat Omphaela plants, which is safe for them, but toxic to other creatures. When they've metamorphosed into their moth stage, that toxicity goes with them, making them poisonous to creatures that might try to eat them.

h/t: Insect Biology, Pets on Mom

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