Many animal species display exceptionally bright iridescent coloration caused by interference or diffraction from a periodic surface microstructure. Although many mollusks are colored, only few utilize such a form of structural coloration. We are not referring to the well-known pearly appearance that is due to the nacreous layer found on the inner surfaces of most shells, but to small brightly colored spots on the outer surface. The Helcion pruinosus is one such example. We show by optical measurements and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) that coloration in this shell is indeed of a structural nature based on thin-film interference from a layered quarter-wave stack tilted by approximately 24° with respect to the outer surface. The microstructure is embedded in the transparent top layer of the shell approximately 50 µm below the surface. By comparing the SEM and optical measurements, we were able to establish that the layered structure is made from a birefringent material (crystalline aragonite) giving slightly different spectral peaks for S- and P-type reflections.
© 2002 Optical Society of America
Original Manuscript: March 5, 2001
Revised Manuscript: July 23, 2001
Published: February 1, 2002
Daniel J. Brink, Nic G. van der Berg, and Andre J. Botha, "Iridescent colors on seashells: an optical and structural investigation of Helcion pruinosus," Appl. Opt. 41, 717-722 (2002)