Nature features a plethora of extraordinary photonic architectures that have been optimized through natural evolution in order to more efciently refect, absorb or scatter light. While numerical optimization is increasingly and successfully used in photonics, it has yet to replicate any of these complex naturally occurring structures. Using evolutionary algorithms inspired by natural evolution and performing particular optimizations (maximize refection for a given wavelength, for a broad range of wavelength or maximize the scattering of light), we have retrieved the most stereotypical natural photonic structures. Whether those structures are Bragg mirrors, chirped dielectric mirrors or the gratings on top of Morpho butterfy wings, our results indicate how such regular structures might have spontaneously emerged in nature and to which precise optical or fabrication constraints they respond. Comparing algorithms show that recombination between individuals, inspired by sexual reproduction, confers a clear advantage that can be linked to the fact that photonic structures are fundamentally modular: each part of the structure has a role which can be understood almost independently from the rest. Such an in silico evolution also suggests original and elegant solutions to practical problems, as illustrated by the design of counter-intuitive anti-refective coatings for solar cells.