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Concept: Denny Laine


It is essential for birds to be agile and aware of their immediate environment, especially when flying through dense foliage. To investigate the type of visual signals and strategies used by birds while negotiating cluttered environments, we presented budgerigars with vertically oriented apertures of different widths. We find that, when flying through narrow apertures, birds execute their maneuvers in an anticipatory fashion, with wing closures, if necessary, occurring well in advance of the aperture. When passing through an aperture that is narrower than the wingspan, the birds close their wings at a specific, constant distance before the aperture, which is independent of aperture width. In these cases, the birds also fly significantly higher, possibly pre-compensating for the drop in altitude. The speed of approach is largely constant, and independent of the width of the aperture. The constancy of the approach speed suggests a simple means by which optic flow can be used to gauge the distance and width of the aperture, and guide wing closure.

Concepts: Optics, Bird, Flight, Wing, Flying and gliding animals, Aperture, Bird flight, Denny Laine


The spectacular success and diversification of insects rests critically on two major evolutionary adaptations. First, the evolution of flight, which enhanced the ability of insects to colonize novel ecological habitats, evade predators, or hunt prey; and second, the miniaturization of their body size, which profoundly influenced all aspects of their biology from development to behavior. However, miniaturization imposes steep demands on the flight system because smaller insects must flap their wings at higher frequencies to generate sufficient aerodynamic forces to stay aloft; it also poses challenges to the sensorimotor system because precise control of wing kinematics and body trajectories requires fast sensory feedback. These tradeoffs are best studied in Dipteran flies in which rapid mechanosensory feedback to wing motor system is provided by halteres, reduced hind wings that evolved into gyroscopic sensors. Halteres oscillate at the same frequency as and precisely antiphase to the wings; they detect body rotations during flight, thus providing feedback that is essential for controlling wing motion during aerial maneuvers. Although tight phase synchrony between halteres and wings is essential for providing proper timing cues, the mechanisms underlying this coordination are not well understood. Here, we identify specific mechanical linkages within the thorax that passively mediate both wing-wing and wing-haltere phase synchronization. We demonstrate that the wing hinge must possess a clutch system that enables flies to independently engage or disengage each wing from the mechanically linked thorax. In concert with a previously described gearbox located within the wing hinge, the clutch system enables independent control of each wing. These biomechanical features are essential for flight control in flies.

Concepts: Evolution, Insect, Control theory, Feedback, Wing, Wings, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch


The smallest flying insects commonly possess wings with long bristles. Little quantitative information is available on the morphology of these bristles, and their functional importance remains a mystery. In this study, we (1) collected morphological data on the bristles of 23 species of Mymaridae by analyzing high-resolution photographs and (2) used the immersed boundary method to determine via numerical simulation whether bristled wings reduced the force required to fling the wings apart while still maintaining lift. The effects of Reynolds number, angle of attack, bristle spacing and wing-wing interactions were investigated. In the morphological study, we found that as the body length of Mymaridae decreases, the diameter and gap between bristles decreases and the percentage of the wing area covered by bristles increases. In the numerical study, we found that a bristled wing experiences less force than a solid wing. The decrease in force with increasing gap to diameter ratio is greater at higher angles of attack than at lower angles of attack, suggesting that bristled wings may act more like solid wings at lower angles of attack than they do at higher angles of attack. In wing-wing interactions, bristled wings significantly decrease the drag required to fling two wings apart compared with solid wings, especially at lower Reynolds numbers. These results support the idea that bristles may offer an aerodynamic benefit during clap and fling in tiny insects.

Concepts: Fluid dynamics, Aerodynamics, Reynolds number, Drag, Lift, Airfoil, Wings, Denny Laine


Direct numerical simulations are used to explore the hovering performance and efficiency for hawkmoth-inspired flapping and revolving wings at Reynolds (Re) numbers varying from 50 to 4800. This range covers the gamut from small (fruit fly size) to large (hawkmoth size) flying insects and is also relevant to the design of micro- and nano-aerial vehicles. The flapping wing configuration chosen here corresponds to a hovering hawkmoth and the model is derived from high-speed videogrammetry of this insect. The revolving wing configuration also employs the wings of the hawkmoth but these are arranged in a dual-blade configuration typical of helicopters. Flow for both of these configurations is simulated over the range of Reynolds numbers of interest and the aerodynamic performance of the two compared. The comparison of these two seemingly different configurations raises issues regarding the appropriateness of various performance metrics and even characteristic scales; these are also addressed in the current study. Finally, the difference in the performance between the two is correlated with the flow physics of the two configurations. The study indicates that viscous forces dominate the aerodynamic power expenditure of the revolving wing to a degree not observed for the flapping wing. Consequently, the lift-to-power metric of the revolving wing declines rapidly with decreasing Reynolds numbers resulting in a hovering performance that is at least a factor of 2 lower than the flapping wing at Reynolds numbers less than about 100.

Concepts: Insect, Aerodynamics, Viscosity, Reynolds number, Drag, Wings, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch