The structural colour of male Hoplia coerulea beetles is notable for changing from blue to green upon contact with water. In fact, reversible changes in both colour and fluorescence are induced in this beetle by various liquids, although the mechanism has never been fully explained. Changes enacted by water are much faster than those by ethanol, in spite of ethanols more rapid spread across the elytral surface. Moreover, the beetles photonic structure is enclosed by a thin scale envelope preventing direct contact with the liquid. Here, we note the presence of sodium, potassium and calcium salts in the scale material that mediate the penetration of liquid through putative micropores. The result leads to the novel concept of aphotonic cell: namely, a biocompatible photonic structure that is encased by a permeable envelope which mediates liquid-induced colour changes in that photonic structure. Engineered photonic cells dispersed in culture media could revolutionize the monitoring of cell-metabolism.