Scientists Have Finally Figured Out How Ladybugs Fold Their Wings

Posted: May 21 2017, 4:05am CDT | by , Updated: May 21 2017, 4:13am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists have Finally Figured Out How Ladybugs Fold their Wings
Researchers transplanted a transparent artificial forewing, or elytron to observe how the insect folded and unfolded its wings. Credit: University of Tokyo

The finding could improve the design of umbrellas, satellites, fans and many other transformable structures

Scientists have long puzzled over how ladybugs fold their wings inside their shell. The tiny insect with red and black dotted shell has a very compact folding mechanism, so understanding the process could lead to more innovative designs of a wide range of structures, from everyday items like umbrellas and fans to advance satellite systems.

Ladybugs can switch between walking and flying with extreme ease and speed and this remarkable ability largely depends on how quickly they can open and close their wings. It takes them only a tenth of a second to open their wings from a tightly folded state.

Ladybug wings consist of forewings called elytra - the familiar hard, red structure with dark spots. These wings cover the soft-membrane hindwings that are delicate and used for flight.

To study the folding mechanism and structure, researchers removed the outer shells of several ladybugs and replaced them with artificial transparent wings. By transplanting artificial see through wings researchers were able to observe underlying folding mechanism that would otherwise be obscure.

It turns out that the process involves lots of folding. Tiny ladybugs tuck their wings away in complex origami-likes style, before opening them out in take off and flight. High-speed camera and CT scanning further showed that both origami-like patterns on the wings and up-and-down movements in the abdomen play an important role in the folding process. The bending points underneath the hindwings provide rigidity and strength necessary for flying without compromising on the elasticity of the wings.

“The ladybugs' technique for achieving complex folding is quite fascinating and novel, particularly for researchers in the fields of robotics, mechanics, aerospace and mechanical engineering.” Assistant Professor Kazuya Saito of the University of Tokyo's Institute of Industrial Science said in a statement.

Ladybugs switch between fly and crawl many times in a day and can travel vast distances, making them an ideal object to study and improve transformable structures. According to The Telegraph, their “wing folding has the potential to change the umbrella design that has been basically unchanged for more than 1000 years.”

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