The eyed elator’s false eyespots are composed of tiny bristles that reflect and refract light.
Victoria wong and paul marek, virginia tech

The eyespots of the eyed elater click beetle (Alaus oculatus) can absorb almost all light through melanin-rich microtubules on the insect’s back, according to a study published January 13 in PeerJ.  

Bird feathers feature barbules, intricate microstructures that “act as a baffle to light,” write Paul Marek  of Virginia Tech and Victoria Wong of Virginia Tech and Texas A&M University, in their study. The result is a deep hue known as “super black” that has applications in solar technology and optical manufacturing. In the click beetle, modified setae, a type of bristle with a microtubular structure, serve a similar function, causing light to reflect and refract, the authors write in the paper. Melanin covering the setae contributes to their absorptive properties. Although the elater’s...

The authors describe the microtubules and melanin as “a collaboration between structural and pigmentary absorption,” noting that the resulting color makes “the beetle appear as a larger, more formidable opponent.”

V.L. Wong, P.E. Marek, “Structure and pigment make the eyed elater’s eyespots black,” PeerJ, doi:10.7717/peerj.8161, 2020.

Amy Schleunes is an intern at The Scientist. Email her at

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