Fish & Wildlife | Ecotrope

High-speed video: See bugs fly in slow-motion

Ecotrope | Sept. 27, 2010 6:17 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:46 p.m.

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The University of Washington has some great high-speed videos (more than 1,000 frames per second) that reveal new details of commonplace insect behavior.

Wired magazine recently featured a whole series of insect videos captured by UW Ph.D. student Andrew Mountcastle.

Here’s what he said about this ladybug video:

“What you can see clearly is that they have two sets of wings. The forewing, or elytra, is what you’re used to seeing when they crawl around. It’s a protective wing. What drives flight is the hind wings, which are intricately folded and protected by the forewings.

Most people have assumed that these elytra don’t serve much purpose in ladybug flight. But to my knowledge, nobody has actually explored the role of forewings in flight. It’s easy to look at them and say, evolution has driven them to be first and foremost protective, but there might be implications for flight that have gone unnoticed.”

Mountcastle said the thinks of high-speed video as a “time microscope” allowing people to see things they can’t see with the naked eye. He and labmate Armin Hinterwirth were commissioned to replace outdated videos at Seattle’s Pacific Science Center.

Wired reports biomechanicists are using high-speed video technology to find industrial or engineering insights in insect movements, but Mountcastle has a different motivation:

“In insects, we see a staggering diversity of shapes and sizes, and a huge diversity of wing shape and size and function,” he said. “Why has evolution given us so many forms? Understanding that is what motivates me.”

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