The Motes in the Moths Eyes

The compound eyes of insects consist of multiple units, called ommatidia. The units are covered by a thin layer of cuticle called the “facet.” Facets that are smooth and flat create a reflective surface (like a mirror) that flashes light from a source such as the sun. Reflective surfaces are not desirable in moths that fly at night and rest during the day. Reflection of light by the facets of the eyes might signal their location to predators.

Perhaps this is why the facets of the compound eyes of moths are not smooth and reflective, but covered with protuberances of the cuticle called “corneal nipples”. The corneal nipples reduce glare and reflection. These optical properties can be reproduced in synthetic films that are not smooth, but contain surfaces with synthetic nipples. These moth-eye films have a variety of uses including window coatings, camera lenses, cell phone displays and computer screens.

Most recently, moth-eye films are finding uses in solar cells. The films reduce the reflectance of the surface. Less light lost to reflectance translates into more light entering the solar cell, increasing its efficiency.

Insects have evolved many solutions to challenges posed by nature. By studying these insect adaptations, we can apply the insect solutions to our own technological challenges.

Fly Compound Eye Showing Facets


Nipples on the Eye of a Butterfly, Bar = 500 nm
Proceedings: Biological Sciences, Vol. 273, No. 1587 (Mar. 22, 2006), pp. 661-667

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is an Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Biomaterials. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Motes in the Moths Eyes

  1. Vic S says:

    Do scientist know how bugs see? Such as when looking at person do they see 10000 of them like shown int the movies or is their vision like humans?

    • jjneal says:

      We can only know what they are capable of “seeing”, not exactly what they see. Vision is a sensation within the brain. Not all people see things the same.

      They definitely do NOT see 10000 people as shown in the movies. that is “artistic license”.

  2. Pingback: A Moth Eye Solution | Living With Insects Blog

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