This is a picture of a colourful butterfly.
And below is the picture of a kaleidoscope of butterflies.
Noticed something unusual?
Take a second look and observe how they fly. They have an erratic fluttering pattern which is unique and is usually not seen in any other birds or insects. This means that they do not follow a particular flying pattern, and can take off real swiftly, making it very difficult for their predators to hunt them. Remember how difficult it is to catch a butterfly by its wings!
Now, what makes them unique? Well, it is not as simple as you might have thought! For instance, they have really big wings considering the size of their bodies. New research says that butterflies don’t require such large wings to fly and can easily fly with half of their wings missing! So why did their wings evolve to this size?
Scientists have been studying butterflies and their flying patterns for a long time, wondering the real reason behind their erratic fluttering. They cracked that mystery very recently when they observed their wings using powerful high-speed video cameras and a wind tunnel. They noticed that the way butterflies flap their wings to balance their body in the air or take a fight is very different from any other insects.
Biologists from Sweden’s Lund University set out to prove a 50-year-old theory that butterflies ‘clap’ their wings together, pushing out the trapped air to create a jet. This helps them to push their body in the opposite direction.
They studied free-flying butterflies, and while analysing their aerodynamics, found that their wings form a cupped shape (more like a slanted figure eight) during the upstroke, and then ‘clap’, thrusting the butterfly forward. Meanwhile, the downstroke helps with weight support.
They also noticed that instead of slamming together, as two flat surfaces, their wings bend to create a ‘pocket shape’, which would capture more air, and improve propulsion. They found that the force of the clap was further increased by the flexibility of the wings, improving the efficiency of the wingbeat by 28% – a pretty good improvement for flying insects.
Pretty clever, right?
Dr Per Henningsson, a biology researcher who studied the butterflies’ aerodynamics, said, “Our measurements show that the impulse created by the flexible wings is 22% higher and the efficiency 28% better compared to if the wings had been rigid.” His team published their findings in the Journal of the Royal Society on 20 January 2021.
Who knew that these flights of butterflies fluttering their colourful wings through sunny mellows would hold so many mysteries. Will you study more about the flying pattern of butterflies and moths after reading this article? Tell us about your findings in the comments below.
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Books are Tanaya Goswami’s first love and cheesecakes come a close second. Talking about movies, music, calligraphy, politics, and Elon Musk will get you listed under the friends’ section of her diary. Ever since moving on from her job as an English lecturer, she spends her time at BYJU’S crafting stories filled with emotion and sprinkled with sarcasm. Outside of work, she’s either learning something new (French, most recently!) or is curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She firmly believes that discovering what you don’t know is the key to knowledge and is constantly working towards improving herself. Drop in a line at [email protected] if you liked her stories, have something nice to say, or if you have compelling ideas to share!
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