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Dragonflies fly straight by using vision and subtle wing control

With their stretched bodies, immense wingspan and iridescent coloring, dragonflies are a unique sight. But their originality doesn’t end with their looks: As one of the oldest insect species on the planet, they are an early innovator of aerial flight. Now, a group led by Jane Wang, professor of mechanical engineering and physics in the…

. With their long bodies, large wingspan, and iridescent colors, dragonflies are an amazing sight. Their uniqueness doesn’t stop at their appearance. They are one of the most ancient insect species on Earth and pioneered aerial flight.

Now is a research group that was led by Jane Wang (professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Arts and Sciences) and has unraveled the complex physics and neural controls that allow dragonflies to correct themselves when they fall.

The research revealed a series of mechanisms that began with the eyes of the dragonfly — all five — and continued through its muscles, wing pitch, and muscle.

The team’s paper, “Recovery Mechanisms in the Dragonfly Righting Reflex,” published May 12 in Science. The paper was co-authored by Wang and James Melfi, Ph.D. , and Anthony Leonardo, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), Ashburn, Virginia.

For over two decades, Wang has used complex mathematical modeling to explain the mechanics behind insect flight. Wang believes that physics is as important as genetics when explaining the evolution of living creatures.

“Insects, the most common species, were the first to learn how to fly. Wang stated that dragonflies are among the oldest insects. “Looking at their movements in the air would provide insight into both the origins of flight and how animals developed neuro-circuitries to balance in air and navigate through space. “

The project was started several years ago by Wang, a visiting scientist at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus. Leonardo was 3D-tracking the dragonflies in a large area. Wang was motivated to examine them closer.

” When we looked at their flight behaviour, we were simultaneously in awe but also frustrated,” she stated. “The trajectories of dragonflies are complicated and unpredictable. Dragonflies are constantly making maneuvers without any apparent direction. It’s mysterious. “

To study these flight dynamics and the internal algorithms that govern them, Wang and Melfi designed a controlled-behavioral experiment in which a dragonfly would be dropped upside down from a magnetic tether — a premise not unlike the famous falling cat experiments from the 1800s that showed how certain “hardwired reflexes” resulted in the felines landing on their feet.

Wang & Melfi discovered that releasing a dragonfly with care and without contacting its legs, it performed the same confounding motions. The researchers were able capture the pattern of motion using three high-speed cameras at 4 ,000 frames per seconds. The motions of the dragonfly were recreated using 3D-tracking software. Markers were placed on its wings and body.

The most difficult part was trying to understand the movements. Researchers had to take into account many factors, including the unstable aerodynamics of the wings and air interactions as well as the body response to dragonfly wings flapping. There’s also that persnickety force that all earthly beings must eve

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