May 16, 2022 2:24 pm

This is the fast flight of one of the smallest insects in the world

An international study, led by Professor Alexey Polilov from Lomonosov Moscow State University (Russia) and published this week in the magazine Nature, explain why the feathered wing beetle (Paratoposa cakes) flies amazingly well for its size: a combination of its style of flight together with the morphology and lightness of its wings.

The feathered wing beetle (or a fringed wing structure) is one of the most common non-parasitic insects. little ones that exist, with an average size of only 395 microns (less than half a millimeter) that equals that of unicellular protists like amoebas.

A highly efficient flying style

The speed of flight of an insect is usually related to its size: the bigger, the faster it flies. At small scales there are limitations in terms of air friction, which is usually greater than the power of flight.

However, tiny insects like Paratoposa cakes it can fly at speeds similar to those reached by insects three times as fast.

These beetles can fly at speeds similar to those reached by insects three times faster

The article describes in detail the peculiar style of flight of these beetles and shows how their fringed wings, whose mass is much less than other membranous ones for the same extension, work very well on very small insects.

“For larger insects, fringed wings are ineffective,” Polilov tells SINC, “but on such a small scale, the viscous frictional forces of the air are large enough compared to the inertial forces that this kind of wings are almost as good—in terms of keeping air out—as the membranous wings of the largest insects.”

as if they were swimming

At the scale of these tiny beetles, air behaves, in terms of viscosity, as if it were Water, “which allows them to fly in a style similar to swimming, as if they were rowing with broom-shaped oars,” explains the researcher.

At this scale, air behaves in terms of viscosity as if it were water.

The authors have used state-of-the-art techniques, such as optical, electron, confocal laser microscopy and three-dimensional computer modeling, to perform the morphological analysis of the beetles.

“To study your locomotion We have used high-speed infrared video and 3D reconstruction of the trajectories and movements of body parts in flight, as well as new methods of computational aerodynamics”, Polilov points out to SINC.

The study of flows and forces of air during the movement of the wings has been analyzed by building scale models of them, and simulating air conditions using glycerol.

Screenshots of the beetle Paratuposa placentis in flight (top row), three-dimensional computer reconstruction of its wing movements (middle row), and visualization of air currents (bottom row). / Farisenkov et al.

“This study is the first to carry out a numerical simulation of the flight of this type of insect, and resolves the flow of air over the individual bristles in a highly realistic 3D configuration”, he tells SINC.

The flight cycle they have described in these beetles is unlike any other known insect.

According to the researcher, the flight cycle that they have described in these beetles is unlike any other known insect, consisting of two power strikes that produce a large upward force and two recovery strikes that produce a smaller downward force.

“Until recently it was assumed that insects such as feathered-wing beetles could not match larger insects in terms of speed and maneuverability in their flight,” Polilov stresses.

“In the future we plan to expand our study to include similarly detailed analyzes of other extremely small flying insects, such as parasitic wasps,” he adds.

The feathered-wing beetle (shown here with its fast flight paths) measures 395 μm. For reference, a euro star measures 800 μm. / SE Farisenkov et al.-Nature/Wikipedia

Despite their extremely small size, these tiny insects are multicellular animals capable of advanced behavior and complex movements, including those that allow most of them to fly.

The Russian researcher’s team discovered in previous works that this type of insects fly amazingly well for their size, and now they have “described their style of flight, which is quite unusual,” the researcher points out.

The authors conclude that these adaptations could explain how the tiny insects have retained such excellent flight performance during the miniaturization process, which could be an important component of their evolutionary success.

Rights: Creative Commons.

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