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No. 71: Sep-Oct 1990

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Nature Communicates In Mysterious Ways

Most of us will recall that the wings of butterflies and moths sometimes display eyespots, which, according to current thinking, are designed to startle potential predators. Perhaps so, but butterfly and moth wings can convey a wide range of "signals." K.B. Sandved, a nature photographer, has also found remarkable renditions of all the letters in the English alphabet (one at a time, of course) on the wings of these insects. In fact, he has accomplished this several times over using different species. He has found all the Arabic numerals, too, as well as ampersands, question marks -- you name it! Although Greek pi and capital omega have turned up, butterflies and maths are clearly trying to impress people who utilize the Roman alphabet. After all, it is difficult enough to evolve an ampersand; generating Chinese characters would strain credulity too much. (Amato, Ivan; "Insect Inscriptions," Science News, 137: 376, 1990.)

Comments. Incidentally, of what survival value are these wing symbols?

Obviously, the butterflies and moths have not got their act completely together as yet. Words and phrases will come soon, we are certain. Look at the eggplants for example. They have specialized in Arabic. It has recently been reported in British newspapers and on BBC Radio 4 that when the Kassam family sliced up an eggplant, the patterns of seeds spelled out "Ya-Allah" (God is everywhere.). (Donnelly, Steve; "Egregarious Eggplants," The Skeptic, 4:4, May/June 1990. The Skeptic is a British publication resembling The Skeptical Inquirer.)

From Science Frontiers #71, SEP-OCT 1990. 1990-2000 William R. Corliss