Solving a Dragonfly Flight Mystery

September 24, 2007

Dragonflies adjust their wing motion while hovering to conserve energy, according to a Cornell University study of the insect's flight mechanics. The revelation contradicts previous speculation that the change in wing motion served to enhance vertical lift.

The Cornell physicists came to their conclusions after analyzing high speed images of dragonflies in action. The insects have two pairs of wings, which sometimes move up and down in harmony. At other times the front set of wings flap out of sync with the back set.

The physicists found that dragonflies maximized their lift, when accelerating or taking off from a perch, by flapping both sets of wings together. When they hover, however, the rear wings flap at the same rate as the front, but with a different phase (imagine two people clapping at the same speed, but with one person's clap delayed relative to the other).

The physicists' analysis of the out-of-sync motion showed that while it didn't help with lift, it minimized the amount of power they had to expend to stay airborne, allowing them to conserve energy while hovering in place.

Citation: Z. Jane Wang and David Russell, Physical Review Letters, forthcoming article

Source: American Physical Society

Explore further: Scientist uses dragonflies to better understand flight

Related Stories

Scientist uses dragonflies to better understand flight

February 20, 2006

If mastering flight is your goal, you can't do better than to emulate a dragonfly. With four wings instead of the standard two and an unusual pitching stroke that allows the bug to hover and even shift into reverse, the slender, ...

Dragonflies on the hunt display complex choreography

December 10, 2014

The dragonfly is a swift and efficient hunter. Once it spots its prey, it takes about half a second to swoop beneath an unsuspecting insect and snatch it from the air. Scientists at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Janelia ...

Wright Brothers Upstaged! Dinos Invented Biplanes

October 19, 2005

The evolution of airplanes from the Wright Brothers' first biplanes to monoplanes was an inadvertent replay of the much earlier evolution of dinosaur flight, say two dino flight experts.

The flight of fruit flies under the microscope

August 22, 2016

A fruit fly can change its flight direction in less than one hundredth of a second. But how does it do that? A firm understanding of how fruit flies hover has emerged over the past two decades, whereas more recent work focussing ...

Recommended for you

Enhancing the quantum sensing capabilities of diamond

November 22, 2017

Researchers have discovered that dense ensembles of quantum spins can be created in diamond with high resolution using an electron microscopes, paving the way for enhanced sensors and resources for quantum technologies.

Study shows how to get sprayed metal coatings to stick

November 21, 2017

When bonding two pieces of metal, either the metals must melt a bit where they meet or some molten metal must be introduced between the pieces. A solid bond then forms when the metal solidifies again. But researchers at MIT ...

Imaging technique unlocks the secrets of 17th century artists

November 21, 2017

The secrets of 17th century artists can now be revealed, thanks to 21st century signal processing. Using modern high-speed scanners and the advanced signal processing techniques, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.