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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

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987