Brief Communication | Published:

Photonic engineering

Aphrodite's iridescence

Nature volume 409, pages 3637 (04 January 2001) | Download Citation



The most intense colours displayed in nature result from either multilayer reflectors or linear diffraction gratings1,2,3. Here we investigate the spectacular iridescence of a spine (notoseta) from the sea mouse Aphrodita sp. (Polychaeta: Aphroditidae). The spine normally appears to be deep red in colour, but when light is incident perpendicular to the axis of the spine, different colours are seen as stripes running parallel to the axis of the spine; over a range of smaller incident angles, the complete visible spectrum is reflected with a reflectivity of 100% to the human eye. The simple structure responsible for this effect is a remarkable example of photonic engineering by a living organism.

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Author information


  1. *Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3PS, UK

    • Andrew R. Parker
  2. †School of Physics, University of Sydney, New South Wales 2006, Australia

    • Ross C. McPhedran
    • , David R. McKenzie
    •  & Nicolae-Alexandru P. Nicorovici
  3. ‡School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney, New South Wales 2007, Australia

    • Lindsay C. Botten


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Correspondence to Ross C. McPhedran.

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