Skip to main content
OF SOME BRILLIANT ANIMAL COLOUTtS ' 589
" Where we know that the cause of the lustre is a dye, the latter facts admit of but one interpretation—that in the case of butterfly-scales we have to do with solutions of the dyes in chitin, solutions whose refractivity for most of the spectrum colours is nearly equal to those of benzol and bisulphide of carbon, so that these colours, unless they are very strongly absorbed by the solution, are practically not reflected in their passage from the colourless liquids. Accordingly, the dyes which give rise to lustre in the chitin-skin of insects, and, as we shall see presently, in the horny skin in birds, are dissolved in the same fashion as cobalt oxide in blue glass or organic dyes in a layer of solid gelatine, a conception suggested in the simple observation of the scales by transmitted light and confirmed by the facts above adduced."
If Walter's argument and conclusion are accepted, the difficulty, already considerable, of explaining the richness of the animal colours is enhanced by the supposed dilution of the dyes, and one can hardly fail to observe that a simpler explanation is to reject the dye theory and refer the colours to interference. The facts recorded agree pretty closely with what happens in the case of films of old decomposed glass.
Indeed, Walter, in a later passage, very candidly admits a difficulty. He says (p. 98):
" Finally, it must not be passed over in silence that there is a circumstance which makes a difficulty for the view here propounded of the lustre colours of butterflies. This is the fact that the lustre practically disappears in benzol and bisulphide of carbon, whereas in treating the theory of surface-colours we have several times insisted that a ray strongly absorbed must under all circumstances be vigorously reflected."
Before leaving the question of the colours it may be well to consider an objection strongly urged by Walter against the interference theory, viz., that the colours of thin plates change too much with obliquity. As regards a single thin plate, which alone Walter seems to have contemplated,, it is true, I think, that the more pronounced colours of the 2nd and 3rd order in Newton's scale change more rapidly with the retardation* than could well be harmonized with what is observed of the animal colours. But the difficulty disappears when we admit a structure several times repeated with approximate periodicity. The changes in chlorate of potash crystals with obliquity seem to agree well enough with what is required, and this form of the interference theory has the advantage of greater elasticity, e.g. meeting Walter's objection that the colours of a single thin plate constitute a simple series with but one independent variable. Indeed, the purity of the reds often to be observed from beetles' wing-cases seems to exclude an interference theory limited to a single thin plate, inasmuch as the reds from such a plate are distinctly inferior,
* See a diagram of the Colours of Thin Plates, Ed. Trans. Vol. xxxui. p. 157 (1886) ; Scientific Papers, Vol. n. p. 498.ve I seen any considerable change of well-developed colour unless the light was polarized. 1853, p. 393; MatJi. and Pliys. Papers, Vol. iv. p. 42.tures, p. 626,1807). If the mercury be wet, boiling may be dispensed with and negative pressures of two atmospheres are easily demonstrated.