Tiny Beetles Can Waterski Across Pond, How Do They Do It?

Posted: Mar 4 2016, 9:13pm CST | by , Updated: Mar 5 2016, 9:58am CST, in News | Latest Science News


Tiny Beetles can Waterski Across Pond, How Do They do it?
Credit: Kurt Hickman

Water lily beetles can waterski at an unbelieveable speed. Researchers divcover the secrets behind this incrediable flight.

Some beetles water-ski like humans. Water lily beetles float across the surface of the water so quickly that it becomes difficult to spot them with the naked eye. They are virtually invisible and only leave a series of small ripples in the water.

Now, a team of researchers from Stanford University have worked out the novel technique which is used by the beetles to speedily sprint across the pond from one lily pad to another.  Researchers scooped up a few of those beetles and closely monitored their movements in the water filled plates on a kitchen table.

Using high-speed cameras, researchers figured out the secret behind the beetle’s remarkable flights. Beetles use surface tension for waterskiing.

“The surface tension forces are so large compared to this little thing, but it has the capacity to fly at half a meter per second on the surface of water without ever detaching from the water's surface,” said lead researcher Manu Prakash, an assistant professor of Engineering at Stanford University. “It's one of the fastest-known locomotion strategies on the surface of water.”

Beetles can travel at a brisk speed and reach 0.5 meters in just a second. Slow-mo video reveals that first the bug settles itself on water. Then, it carefully places its legs. Keeps its body upward and flaps its wings in a figure eight motion.

Its feet grip is so firm it never loses contact with water and continues to move forward.

“The beetles look so beautiful on film and this project is so rich with opportunity to do really fascinating research in so many fields, including fluid mechanics, biomechanics and non-linear dynamics and synthesize them into an explanation of this biological phenomenon.” Haripriya Mukundarajan, one of the researchers involved in the study said.

To unravel the complicated physics of insect’s flight, researchers had to incorporate mathematical models with high-speed video. They found that settling legs prior to the flight was crucial for minimizing friction with the water and to establish stability. Then, they beat their wings at a constant frequency upward and downward despite of so many bumps. 

“When you put yourself in the framework of animals that live in this planet, you suddenly realize that the way they solve the problem is fundamentally different from the way you and I would think about solving an engineering problem,” said Prakash. “That’s just fascinating, because you suddenly stumble upon completely new and creative solutions.” 


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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