Imitating nature is not a new idea. When the GE team put Morpho wings under a powerful microscope, they saw a layer of tiny scales just tens of micrometers across. In turn, each of the scales had arrays of ridges a few hundred nanometers wide. This complex structure absorbs and bends light and gives Morfo butterflies their trademark shimmering blue and green coat.

Read: Insect Wings Could Yield Better Heat and Chemical Sensors

Researchers at GE Global Research discovered that the nanostructures on the wing scales of Morpho butterflies have acute sensing capabilities. This could allow scientist to build sensors that can detect heat and also as many as 1,000 different chemicals.

Morpho butterfly wings could inspire the next generation of thermal imaging sensors.

Morpho butterfly wings change their natural color (A) after exposure to ethanol (top B) and toluene (bottom B).