High-speed Arthropod Week day 2: Beetle Wings!

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Most large beetles, in comparison to flies, wasps and dragonflies seem slow and cumbersome in flight. Perhaps this is due to their forewings being modified into protective covers for the abdomen rather than  full aerodynamic partners. Instead, many beetles hold their forewings (called elytra) aloft ahead of their membranous hindwings, contributing to stability and lift at high airspeeds only (note that they often hold them at a high dihedral, which is a stable configuration).

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Certain beetles have much more agility in flight, and acheive this by closing their forewings across their abdomens after their hindwings are deployed. If you have ever tried casing down a Trichiotinus flower scarab in flight, you can appreciate their advantage!

Putting all that hindwing under the elytra takes a bit of origami. Compare the folding of the soldier beetle (Rhagonycha fulva, Cantharidae) above with the ladybird below.

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Beetles are hyper-diverse, and very prominent in all kinds of ecosystems, so it seems that their (on average) less agile flight has not been a big penalty. The way that they gracefully unfold their wings and reach skyward during takeoff seems somewhat hopeful to me for some reason. And however much their flight performance lacks compared to a housefly, I still remember that almost any beetle can fly a lot better than I can!

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10 thoughts on “High-speed Arthropod Week day 2: Beetle Wings!

  1. Fantastic. I am really liking this series as well. Love your comments about the beetles in the second paragraph….very poetic and very true.
    “Beetles are hyper-diverse, and very prominent in all kinds of ecosystems, so it seems that their (on average) less agile flight has not been a big penalty. The way that they gracefully unfold their wings and reach skyward during takeoff seems somewhat hopeful to me for some reason. And however much their flight performance lacks compared to a housefly, I still remember that almost any beetle can fly a lot better than I can!

  2. now if we could only do that fly that is it would fantastic.. like what you are showing us , Keep up the good work…

  3. Pingback: Morsels for the mind – 9/8/2013 › Six Incredible Things Before Breakfast

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