Researchers Unlock The Mysteries Of Insect Flight

Researchers Unlock The Mysteries Of Insect Flight

Have you ever wondered why insects fly the way they do? For example, why do some house flies lazily buzz around slowly enough to be swatted out of the air? Do bees become tired of hovering over flowers? Do some flying insects land on an object because they have become tired of flying? Well, according to researchers, all flying insects have a preferred speed and mode at which they fly. Until now, scientists have never known if flying insects even have an optimal flying speed. Researchers have long known that certain birds only fly at speeds that require the least amount of energy expenditure while still remaining airborne. However, no data has ever existed concerning the amount of energy consumed by certain insects as they fly at different speeds. This gap in knowledge is not as wide as it used to be, as research has shown that a particular insect will fly in a manner that is least taxing and most efficient.

A particular insect’s most efficient flying speed is scientifically unexplored territory, with one exception. A Swedish study from several years back showed that bumblebees expend the same amount of energy hovering as they do when they are flying forward. However, new research shows that other flying insects are nothing like bumblebees in this regard. According to a biologist from Sweden’s Lund University, Kajsa Warfvinge, tobacco hawkmoths consume different amounts of energy depending on their flight speed, much like birds. Hawkmoths consume the greatest amount of energy at high speeds and low speeds. This rule is easy enough to grasp and it is in line with basic aviation theories. If a hawkmoth flies at slow speeds, then more lift will be required to allow the moth to glide. If a flying moth loses lift, it will then be forced to expend energy flapping its wings in order to remain airborne. Of course, flying fast will also cause moths to expend a lot of energy. The most efficient traveling speed for a hawkmoth happens to be two to three meters per second. This study cannot be applied to all flying insects, but recent advances in technology have led to sophisticated instruments that can gauge various aspects of insect flight. For example, placing an insect into an airtube while recording its movements with a tomographic PIV can reveal a particular insects most efficient flying speed. This device captures an insect’s “aerodynamic footprint”.

Do all insects fly in a manner that exemplifies aviation theories? Should some flying insects be studied for their own unique flight patterns, some of which may not conform to modern aviation studies?



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