New research reveals an answer to one of nature’s great questions:
How does a butterfly fly?
(and why this revelation may help others take flight)
- Scientists have tried to understand the mystery of butterflies’ flight since their wings are disproportionately large compared to the rest of their bodies.
- An understanding from past decades: Butterfly wings “clap” together.
- New research: Their wings are flexible & “cup” as they meet. Instead of two flat surfaces clapping, the wings’ edges meet before the center, creating a “pocket shape” (try it with your hands).
“It is an elegant mechanism that is far more advanced than we imagined, and it is fascinating … The shape and flexibility of butterfly wings could inspire improved performance and flight technology in small drones.”
Researcher Per Henningsson of Sweden's Lund University, who observed butterflies in a wind tunnel, says the "cupping" of wings creates an air pocket they use to quickly and efficiently lift off and fly away.
Researchers also built mechanical wings and discovered that flexible wings (like the ones butterflies have) are more efficient than rigid ones. The researchers said designers of land and air drones using wings and fins should consider a "cupped clap" for improved "flight/swim duration and range."
Here’s a good write-up: Natural wonder: Wing ‘clap’ solves mystery of butterfly flight
“That the wings are cupped when butterflies clap them together, makes the wing stroke much more effective. It is an elegant mechanism that is far more advanced than we imagined, and it is fascinating. The butterflies benefit from the technique when they have to take off quickly to escape from predators,” says biology researcher Per Henningsson, who studied the butterflies’ aerodynamics together with colleague Christoffer Johansson.
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by Jenna Lee,